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In the wake of the state-sanctioned murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia in 2018, many corporate entities condemned the Saudi government and vowed to divest from business interests in the country, including Vice Media (even Nicki Minaj canceled a planned show there in 2019). However, according to a new report in The Guardian, Vice instead organized a multi-million-dollar music festival there. The Azimuth festival took place in March 2020, just at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, in “the middle of the Saudi Arabian desert” with a reported budget of $20m and performances from British rapper Tinie Tempah and American electronic duo Chainsmokers.
Vice apparently took pains to hide its involvement as well, having contractors on the festival sign non-disclosure agreements and ensuring that the Vice brand name didn’t appear on any public marketing, despite the festival being organized by Vice’s creative marketing agency Virtue. The Guardian also reports that Vice opened a permanent office in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, and struck a deal with the Saudi Research and Marketing Group to produce promotional films for the country.
Meanwhile, Vice staffers, quoted anonymously, expressed dismay at the situation, saying, “Vice employees have for years raised concerns over the company’s involvement with Saudi Arabia – and we’ve been fobbed off with empty statements and pathetic excuses.”