The UK’s broadcasting regulator has ruled that a television advert for Saudi Arabia breached its rules on political advertising.
The advert, which ran on Sky 1, promoted the country’s Vision 2030 reform agenda and featured images of women driving and cinemas opening.
But Ofcom said promoting the reforms and UK-Saudi links ignored “heightened public controversy” about the issues.
Ofcom has not levied a fine, but ruled that Sky cannot repeat the advert.
The one-minute adverts ran in March, ahead of a visit to the UK by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The adverts show a montage of images promoting Saudi society, over which a narrator says: “Things are undoubtedly changing in Saudi Arabia… Key world partnerships are at the heart of this shift, mainly with the United Kingdom.”
Ofcom said it considered whether there was a “public service nature” to the adverts, such as, for example, those used by the UK government to campaign on health or road safety.
But the regulator concluded: “In Ofcom’s view, the primary aim of the advertisement was to portray the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in a positive light.” The adverts were paid for by an arm of the country’s ministry of culture and information.
Ofcom also said in its ruling that it “took into account the controversy and debate that was taking place among the wider public more generally, as reflected in the media reports published in the days immediately preceding and during the visit by Saudi royalty and officials”.
The regulator cited a Sky News report which said that “the visit will not be without criticism and protest”.
Earlier this year Mohammed bin Salman unveiled a huge reform agenda, designed in part to open the country to more foreign inward investment and create an economy less dependent on oil revenues.
During the crown prince’s visit, there was also roadside billboard and newspaper advertising to promote the country.