Viacom CEO Bob Bakish has joined the growing exodus of media companies, personalities and executives from a high-profile conference in Saudi Arabia, in response to the disappearance of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi.
Bakish was set to participate in a panel discussion of globalization and technology in the entertainment business during the Future Investment Initiative, which will be held Oct. 23-25 in Riyadh. He has now dropped out, TheWrap has learned.
Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi journalist and critic of crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, went missing Oct. 2 after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Top Turkish security officials have since contended that Khashoggi was assassinated on orders from the highest levels of the royal court. The Saudi government maintains that he left the consulate soon after he arrived and is not in their custody.
Backish is only the latest to abandon the conference amid worldwide outrage over Khashoggi’s disappearance and alleged murder. New York Times columnist and CNBC anchor Andrew Ross Sorkin announced his withdrawal on Thursday, as did The Economist editor-in-chief Zanny Minton Beddoes. LA Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong also withdrew from the event Thursday, and on Wednesday The New York Times announced it would no longer be a media partner with the event.
Also Thursday, WME told TheWrap it is “assessing” its relationship to the Saudi crown. Earlier this year, The Public Investment Fund — the kingdom’s major sovereign wealth vehicle — struck a deal with WME to buy a stake of less than 10 percent in the talent agency and media company for at least $400 million. Khashoggi ‘s disappearance has cast a shadow on that deal, and could put WME at odds with other clients, which include prominent journalists who are covering the story.
Trey Williams and Jeremy Fuster contributed to this report.