LONDON: Only two regional media outlets — CNN Arabic and London-based Asharq Al-Awsat — have corrected a mistake relating to coverage of late Saudi Oil Minister Ahmad Zaki Yamani.
Following his death on Feb. 23, the aforementioned outlets were two of many that mistakenly reported that he was the first secretary-general of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) — despite OPEC itself confirming this was not the case.
The common mistake was exposed at the time by the Arab News Research & Studies Unit, which tracked coverage of Yamani’s death and found that most Saudi and regional media outlets relied on his Arabic Wikipedia page. The Wikipedia entry contained inaccurate and unsourced information.
Speaking to Arab News over the phone at the time, a spokesperson for OPEC in Vienna firmly denied that Yamani was ever a secretary-general or the first conference president. He was in fact the fourth — a role he presided over seven times, first in 1962.
CNN Arabic and Asharq Al-Awsat immediately corrected the fallacy. But other outlets — all of them previously named by Arab News, including Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ekhbariya channel, dailies Saudi Gazette and Okaz, and international broadcasters Al Jazeera and RT Arabic — seemed adamant on keeping the error and not issuing a correction.
“Not correcting the mistake about Ahmad Zaki Yamani at first glance, after the error was pointed out, shows sloppiness and lack of professionalism. If it was done intentionally, it would indicate malicious intent,” Magda Abu-Fadil, a veteran journalist and director of Media Unlimited, told Arab News.
“In either case, it undermines the journalist’s or media’s credibility that published that news item. Worst-case scenario, if it were a security-related issue, it could endanger people — all of which is unacceptable and unethical.”
A simple phone call, or even a cursory skim of OPEC’s official list of secretaries-general, would have revealed that Yamani’s name does not appear as the first — or indeed at all.
Despite his legendary standing and influence, the late minister was never a secretary-general, but was in fact the first Saudi representative on the OPEC board of governors.