Gulf States Call for New Media Group to Defend Oil Industry

The first oil well of the region is seen with new and advanced oil pumping machines in the background in Bahrain. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

Oil ministers from Arab-Gulf states have proposed the formation of a media association to "defend Gulf oil producers and their policies", according to the Kuwait News Agency (Kuna).

The Saudi oil minister, Ali Al-Nuaimi, made the announcement in a keynote speech on Sunday at a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) petroleum media forum. He said the "petroleum media association" would be made up of Gulf and Arab journalists covering energy, to "boost transparency" and help to inform Gulf state oil policy.

The GCC is an economic and political union between Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Oman - all countries with economies that rely to varying degrees on oil exports.

According to Kuna, Kuwait's oil and parliamentary affairs minister Dr Ali Al-Omair said the media can directly impact the oil industry through analysis and opinion, and have been influencing economic and oil policies. He called for a "credible, transparent and influential" media association, which "should defend Gulf oil producers and defend their policies".

"Oil is everything to the treasury in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE and Qatar," says Dr Valérie Marcel, an expert on oil and politics in the Gulf region at international affairs thinktank Chatham House.

She says the petroleum media association could be being established in response to criticism from some OPEC countries over a refusal from Saudi Arabia to cut back on its sale of oil in the wake of falling oil prices.

"There have been a lot of conspiracy theories in the media that the Saudi refusal to cut back on its oil sales was intended to hurt some producers," says Dr Marcel. "In the past, Saudi Arabia hasn't sold everything it could so it would be able to control a price slide. It hasn't done that this year. So several reporters and analysts have been saying it is to hurt Russia and Iran."

"That creates tension within OPEC because Iran and Venezuela, being in OPEC are hurting bad right now, Nigeria too, and so they want to control that message for the world to understand, and the regional audience to understand that this was not intended to hurt other producers."

Press freedom is heavily restricted in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia - coming 163rd and 164th respectively out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders world press freedom index for 2014 - and Dr Marcel says the establishment of a petroleum media association in the GCC makes it "seem like they want to build a credible group to speak knowledgeably about oil policies in a way that serves their interests".

"[Saudi Arabia] don't have experience in keeping journalists at arms length for independence and neutrality, so they will probably expect to control it," she says. "They are expecting this professional press to see the light...they are expecting them to be quite pliant."

"The extent to which the petroleum journalists follow what their wishes are is not a given. You can't assume the petroleum journalists will be mouthpieces for the industry," she adds.