The Listening Post

Saudi Arabia post-Khashoggi: Business as usual?

After Khashoggi’s killing, Saudi Arabia tightens grip on media and public discourse. Plus, South Korea’s ‘Defector TV’.

On this episode of The Listening Post: More than a month after Jamal Khashoggi’s killing, control on media and public discourse in Saudi Arabia continues to tighten. Plus, ‘defector TV’ in South Korea.

Saudi Arabia post-Khashoggi

It’s been almost six weeks since the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Riyadh reaffirmed this past week that it was a rogue operation, but its story keeps changing. And news has surfaced of another Saudi journalist, Turki bin Abdulaziz al-Jasser, who was arrested eight months ago, and was allegedly tortured to death while in detention.

Al-Jasser ran what he thought was an anonymous account on Twitter, a platform that used to be a proxy public square for Saudis, but where an army of trolls has poisoned debate, harasses dissidents and spreads misinformation.

The mastermind of that campaign was Saud al-Qahtani, who worked behind the scenes as an enforcer for Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.

As his boss conducted a charm offensive on the western media, al-Qahtani ensured journalists back home toed the line and critics stayed quiet. He was reportedly fired over his role in the Khashoggi killing, but the chilling effect of his work remains.


Ali al-Ahmed, The Institute for Gulf Affairs
Feras Abu Helal, editor-in-Chief, Arabi21
Sahar Khamis, associate professor, University of Maryland
Chris Doyle, director, The Council for Arab-British Understanding

On our radar

Richard Gizbert speaks to producer Will Yong about the latest developments in Gaza: where Israeli warplanes destroyed the headquarters of Hamas-run Al-Aqsa TV; and India – where a top TV news anchor has been criticised for a report on the conflict between government forces and the Maoist or Naxalite insurgency in the northeast of the country.

South Korea’s ‘Defector TV’

South Korea‘s President Moon Jae-in‘s visit to North Korea‘s capital of Pyongyang in September was the latest in a series of steps aimed at defusing tensions on the peninsula. But despite talk of reunification, most of what South Koreans know about their neighbours comes from the testimonies of those who have sought asylum in the south.

Those testimonies are now being used to produce so-called ‘Defector TV‘, reality TV that puts North Koreans on the air, exploring what their lives were like before defecting and even setting them up with romantic partners from the south.

The producers involved say they’re out to improve understanding, pave the way to reunification of countries divided since the end of World War II, but the sceptics aren’t buying it. They say the shows are heavy on misrepresentation, sensationalism and sexist stereotyping.


Kim A-ra – defector and broadcaster, Channel A
Christopher Green – co-editor, Sino-NK
Park Hyun-sun – sociology professor, Ewha Womans University
Kim Ji-young – defector and broadcaster, TV Chosun