For journalists working in Saudi Arabia, Brigadier General Mansur bin Sultan Al Turki is the first point of contact for reliable and up-to-date information on the security situation in the Kingdom. Describing his job as official spokesman for the Saudi Ministry of Interior as "a permanent press conference that can start at any time and in any place", Brigadier Al Turki adds that when the media coverage of security incidents is uninterrupted, which means he fields calls from the media 24 hours a day. He worries sometimes that journalists misreport these phone conversations and do not present an accurate description of unfolding events, especially he says, because many of them work under pressure and hastily try to assemble facts when a situation is still unraveling.
Dominic Evans, a correspondent for Reuters news agency in Saudi Arabia, reveals that a significant improvement to accessing information about events in the Kingdom has recently taken place. He credits Al Turki and says that the Ministry spokesman is his first point of contact when he needs information on security issues. According to Evans, the Brigadier is professional who is active and efficient in fulfilling his duties, as well as being always available and easy to reach. "When he is short of information, he will get back to you really quickly." Evans, who has been living in Riyadh for a year, wishes other "Ministries and Departments would adopt the same approach and appoint an official spokesman to supply the media with the information they need." Another foreign correspondent, Ali Al Khalil, who works for Agence France Presse (AFP) describes the Brigadier as "blunt man who loves his job". He considers himself lucky to have started work in the Saudi Arabia when Al Turki was first appointed. Both journalists particularly admire the Brigadier”s work during last year”s terrorist attack on the US Consulate in Jeddah.
For his part, Al Turki says he tries to unite the different channels of communication, adding that he sees himself as a representative of the various security departments in the Kingdom, who is responsible for the accurate depiction of event. Of course, sometimes, the Brigadier is reluctant to respond to journalists” queries until he is confident of the information and authorized to do so. He also admits that, due to the nature of their jobs, journalists, every so often, wake him up during the night with trivial phone calls which can wait until he is ready to respond in the morning.
In his view, women journalists are more focused on asking probing questions than their male counterparts because they know exactly what they want from him. He admits that he finds women more difficult to work with but he tries to keep his temper under control and focus on supplying representatives of media with the latest news. Women, he adds, are better at cornering government officials and obliging them in providing information when they are reluctant to do so.
With regard to last year”s terrorist attack on the US Consulate, the
Brigadier deplores how some journalists from the written press and satellite television stations jumped to conclusions and did not seek the correct information from the Kingdom”s security forces. As a result, the coverage of the event in some media outlets was
inaccurate and exaggerated. He adamantly denies all allegations that
fiddled information before passing it on to the world”s media, adding that "the security situation can”t be concealed or embellished because we are dealing with a society and individuals to whom security is paramount. The government simply can”t hide the truth because it will emerge, in on way or another. If we are silent, the victim”s families and friends won”t be." He explains that matters of security carry implications for individuals” rights and freedom. Officials shouldn”t act impulsively and inaccurately accuse suspects.
When reporting an event, the first step should be, the Brigadier adds, to analyze genuine evidence and search for clues to what really happened. Investigations, he says require, above all patience. The media, on the other hand, is more concerned with live coverage and immediate information. Al Turki cautions journalists against hurried reporting and asks them to show some responsibility and to present correct information "without jumping to conclusions" so as not to harm their trade.
Brigadier Al Turki holds a degree in Engineering from Seattle University, in the US State of Washington. "Engineering demands order, accuracy, and imagination, particularly in electrical matters", he says. He is married and has three children, Sultan (aged 14), Mashal (aged 11), and Haifa (aged 8). He admits to sometimes feeling guilty about not spending enough time with his family. But the Brigadier is quick to declare how proud he is of being in a position of responsibility where he is trying to set principles that his colleagues will later follow.
An old colleague of Al Turki, Dr. Osama al Bar, the Dean of the Holy
Custodian School for Research on issues relating to the Hajj (the annual pilgrimage to Mecca), who has known the Brigadier for over 10 years, during his spell managing the security of the Hajj at the Ministry of Interior, considers him a symbol of law and order inside the Kingdom. He also reveals that Al Turki is a great travel companion who enjoys sports and spends time planning every detail of his life in advance. Al Bar adds that, behind the officer exterior, the Brigadier is a family man who is very fond of his children. Not many are aware of his interest in astronomy and technological innovations. He tries to read about new technologies and find out how they can be applied to increase security inside the Kingdom. Al Turki also reveals that he tries to read into people”s behavior and examine their educational background to see how it has shaped their
personality and affected their actions. In the aftermath of the Jeddah incidents, the Brigadier admits to missing his family but says he has become better at communicating with his colleagues.