Vision 2030 has become the largest single contributor to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s global media coverage, a recent report indicated.

The research, titled “KSA Reputation: How Vision 2030 is Rebranding the Nation,” released last month by global media intelligence provider CARMA, showed that the Kingdom’s transformative vision had put it in a more positive light than 15 months ago.

The in-depth analysis examined coverage across 30 markets and over 1,800 major international titles from traditional and digital media to identify prominent conversations and sentiments on Saudi Arabia. It revealed that one-third of articles mentioned Vision 2030 in the first quarter of 2022 compared to 19 percent in 2020.

According to the study, there was a shift in sentiment between 2020 and 2021; positive feelings increased by nine percent from one year to the next, while negative coverage decreased by 18 percent. Sentiment evolution extended to the first quarter of this year and was affected mainly by geopolitical factors, which hindered the growth of favorable news. The factors included the war in Ukraine, which moved the geopolitics of energy to the forefront of international attention, reverberating across regions.

General references to economic affairs were the second largest contributor to mainstream media articles in 2021 at 20 percent, CARMA noted, while oil and gas were third at 14 percent, with tourism and culture resting at 9 percent. It means that media discussions around Saudi Arabia have moved beyond oil to shed light on social and economic changes.

“Saudi Arabia is changing fast, and Vision 2030 is a unique transformative economic and social reform blueprint that is opening the Kingdom to the world,” Rawan Hashem, director of Content Insights, CARMA International, told Al Arabiya English. “We wanted to tell the story of this transformation and evaluate the shift in sentiment from 2020 to date while focusing on the key themes and reputation drivers from a comparative point of view.”

The study mentioned that 2021 cast fresh light on Saudi Arabia, with international headlines underlining the achievements of Saudi women and the country’s advancement of women’s empowerment and inclusion.

The upcoming TROJENA project in NEOM is part of Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030. (File photo: File photo)
The upcoming TROJENA project in NEOM is part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030. (File photo: File photo)

Raghida Dergham, founder and executive chair of the Beirut Institute and international columnist, confirmed that changes had not gone unnoticed.

“There has been a revolution of an evolution in the Saudi society on the social, cultural, and economic levels, and Vision 2030 has been the kick start of this process.”

Dergham agreed that political issues were no longer the sole focus of media interest; she said that politics would not disappear from the conversation.

“Emphasis on oil will keep its share of media coverage. The same applies to the strategic importance of Saudi Arabia in the Middle East as well as its ties with the USA.”

Vision 2030 moves along post-pandemic

The sentiment coverage around Saudi Arabia has become more nuanced, particularly after COVID-19’s impact has started to wind down and the Kingdom has begun to promote its tourism credentials and economic attractiveness.

The study showed that Saudi initiatives related to technology, environment, entertainment, sports, and science gained media traction in 2021; the share of these topics increased by 40 percent.

“We saw a lot of media reports underscoring technology and entertainment initiatives happening across the Kingdom in addition to cultural partnerships and diplomacy. It’s like a new Saudi Arabia is in the making. Regional and international outlets also spoke about KSA’s efforts to establish itself as a global tourism destination,” Hashem explained.

For her part, Dergham sees that Saudi Arabia is moving in the right direction towards achieving its Vision 2030, but the journey is long.

“The evolution, as it looks right now, seems to be heading towards a remarkable outcome. I must emphasize, however, the need to address several other important aspects, including the status of individuals.”

Reforms in the Middle East are unavoidable

From a media analysis perspective, Hashem believes that Vision 2030 shows the world a new face of Saudi Arabia, significantly since it is reshaping its reputation. It will continue to make that happen.

Similar reforms and visions are needed in many countries in the Middle East to reach certain stability in the region, according to Dergham.

“Gulf states in general, and Saudi Arabia in particular, are adopting, and adapting to, more reforms than the Levant countries, where there’s collapse,” she said. “Reforms can have a substantial impact on society and the direction of a country.”

“Gulf States have reconsidered their relations with the world and each other; they are finding their own path that is not reliant on the outside world. And it’s not the end of the road. Who knows what’s next after 2030? They might be telling us about their visions for 2050 and even 2070.”