Alwaleed’s Forbes complaint sparks needless war of words

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Friday, 8 March 2013 - Will Edwards

Saudi prince’s dispute with major business magazine over the size of his personal wealth shows the dangers of overreacting to media coverage

Friday Fame or Shame

It may seem quite reasonable to complain about a news story that you feel has inaccurate information about you – but this particular occasion is a rather extreme one.

In the Forbes 2013 list of the world’s richest people, Prince Alwaleed of Saudi Arabia was pegged at $20bn, which put him in 26th place – just behind David Thomson, chairman of Thomson Reuters. However, Prince Alwaleed, whose wealth comes from a range of investments, has accused Forbes of hugely underestimating his net worth.

According to the BBC, his office said that the magazine was using flawed valuations that were “designed to disadvantage” Middle Eastern investors. The Prince estimates his own worth at $29.6bn, which would put him in 10th place – just behind Liliane Bettencourt, the world’s richest woman, whose fortune has come from L’Oreal.

This seemingly harmless discrepancy has triggered a war of words, with Forbes saying that it carried out a deeper examination of his wealth and reached the conclusion that “the value that the prince puts on his holdings at times feels like an alternate reality”.

Cue a retaliation from the Prince’s CFO Shadi Sanbar: “I never knew that Forbes was a magazine of sensational dirt digging and rumor-filled stories,” he said. Forbes went on to claim that of the 1,426 billionaires on its list, “not one – not even the vainglorious Donald Trump – goes to greater measure to try to affect his or her ranking”.

It’s often not worth complaining to a news organisation when you think they’ve got something wrong: even if they do admit a mistake, the best you’re likely to get is an apology hidden within another edition that most people would miss.

In this instance, it would probably have been better for the Prince to accept the original valuation – flawed or otherwise. Instead, all he’s achieved is to upset a major media organisation that would have had no alternative but to justify its reporting, eliciting copious sympathy from its legion of corporate readers.

Will Edwards is managing director of media training consultancy Bluewood Training

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