Saudi Arabia: a kingdom reimagined

Carma’s Rawan Hashem explains how Vision 2030 is transforming Saudi Arabia’s reputation

Image Credit: Carma

Saudi Arabia continues to shape its global reputation, says CARMA, the global media intelligence provider. Through a powerful combination of cutting-edge AI technology and expert human consulting, Carma delved deep into the conversations and sentiments surrounding Saudi Arabia in 2022.

It conducted comprehensive research analysing media coverage across 33 major markets and over 2,400 major international titles from traditional, digital, and broadcast media. The focus of the research was to understand the impact of Vision 2030, the Kingdom’s ambitious long-term development plan, on Saudi Arabia’s reputation, as well as to examine how the country was perceived in regional and international top-tier media.

Despite navigating a stormy geopolitical landscape, Saudi Arabia demonstrated resilience and triumphed over political hurdles with its social and economic innovations, captivating predominantly positive media attention throughout the year.

While political and societal criticism posed challenges in the second and third quarters, the Kingdom’s unwavering efforts in tourism and diplomacy played a crucial role in preserving its international standing. Notably, the research showcased a 4 per cent increase in positivity and a 12 per cent decrease in negativity between the first and last quarter of 2022.

Furthermore, Vision 2030’s share of voice grew by 13 per cent by the end of 2022, which reflected its growing recognition and its resounding influence, solidifying its position as a driving force in shaping Saudi Arabia’s future.

Although explicit mentions of Vision 2030 represented 14 per cent of the overall media coverage in 2022, the significance of topics related to the plan reverberated throughout the media landscape. Social topics witnessed a surge of 10 per cent in coverage, while economic news declined by 12 per cent between the first and last quarter of 2022.

This evolving media focus indicated a growing recognition of the societal impact and transformative nature of Vision 2030, as the Kingdom’s efforts to drive social development resonated with both regional and international audiences.

‘‘The Kingdom’s aspirations to become a sports powerhouse were widely covered”

CARMA’s research also revealed key positive drivers that propelled Saudi Arabia’s reputation forward and contributed to its evolving narrative on the global stage. These included:

  • Booming economy: The activities of the Public Investment Fund and Aramco, as well as the growth of the Saudi economy were often in the limelight.
  • Thriving tourism and entertainment industries: The media extensively covered the Kingdom’s efforts to boost its travel industry and expand the entertainment sector. Notable highlights included the launch of the Future Aviation Forum and the investments in the gaming industry.
  • Building stronger global ties: Saudi Arabia’s active role in the peace negotiations in Yemen and its growing cooperation with several nations, such as China and South Korea, were heavily discussed by the media.
  • Dominating the global oil market: Given its status as a major oil producer, the high oil prices in 2022 brought attention to Saudi Arabia. News outlets reported on the Kingdom’s expanding share in China’s oil market and its emergence as the second-largest oil supplier to India.
  • Transforming the sports landscape:The Kingdom’s aspirations to become a sports powerhouse were widely covered, with the country hosting and participating in various global sports events.
  • Promoting rich cultural heritage: The investments in arts and heritage received global attention, as major cultural events like Al Ula Winter and the Noor Riyadh Art Festival garnered significant media coverage.

However, the study highlighted some negative drivers that gained traction and warranted attention. They included:

  • Accusations of sportswashing: Controversy surrounded the LIV Golf tournament and the hosting of prestigious global events, with journalists raising ethical concerns.
  • Deepening rift in US-Saudi relations: The US media was particularly critical of Saudi Arabia, condemning the visit of the US President to the Kingdom, as the country was labeled a ‘bad strategic partner’ amid the Russia-Ukraine crisis.
  • Backlash over oil cuts: Western media lambasted Saudi Arabia for its oil production cut, viewing it as a ‘betrayal’ of traditional allies and interpreting it as a sign of ‘support‘ for Russia in its conflict with Ukraine.
  • Scrutiny of ambitious sustainability goals: Scepticism was raised by top-tier outlets regarding
  • Saudi Arabia’s ability to fulfill its green commitments, particularly with respect to the Neom project.
  • Debates sparked by Jeddah demolitions: International media reported on the anger of locals, who claimed that the demolitions were conducted without proper consultation and consideration for the historical significance of buildings and neighbourhoods.
  • Experts weighing in on the feasibility of Saudi megaprojects: The Kingdom’s ability to deliver on its megaprojects came under scrutiny by experts and journalists. Neom, in particular, raised scepticism regarding feasibility and funding challenges.

The Kingdom’s ability to overcome political challenges, the prominence of social themes amidst geopolitical unrest, the far-reaching influence of Vision 2030, and the emergence of sports and tourism as key discussion topics all underscored Saudi Arabia’s position as a crucial regional and international player.

Through resilience, innovation, and a commitment to positive change, Saudi Arabia continues to shape its global reputation, reaffirming its significance in the international community.

By Rawan Hashem Head of Insights – MENA at Carma