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Nieman Advisors Reject Saudi Travel

By Laurie Hays

The Nieman Advisory committee recently rejected an informal invitation from Saudi Arabia for 13 American fellows to travel there this year, because the committee wishes to limit foreign travel during the 35-week fellowship.

James C. Thomson Jr., Curator of the Nieman Foundation, said Monday, that when he brought up the proposal of a trip to Saudi Arabia, members of the Nieman Advisory committee expressed their strong opposition to foreign travel as a part of the Nieman program.

Although a group of fellows will be traveling to Canada in January and later possibly to Japan, members of the committee said they have always opposed foreign trips.

Thomson said this will possibly be the last year that the program would consider trips to Japan, which have been made annually for the past five years.

The possibility of a trip to Saudi Arabia "provoked the decision to restrict foreign travel in the future," Thomson said, adding that there had been no discussion of possible political complications concerning travel restrictions of the Saudi Arabian government which does not permit Jews to enter the country.

Bok Says No to Saudi Arabia

President Bok said in a speech on May 12, 1975 that Harvard would refuse any involvement in Saudi Arabia because of the country's visa restrictions on Jews.

However, Salel Osman, vice-consul of the Saudi Arabian Consulate in New York, said yesterday exceptions to the requirement are made in special cases, particularly in the case of journalists.

Thomson said he was not aware of Bok's statement but that he felt journalists "can and should travel anywhere." He added the committee was concerned with how such travel would affect the Nieman sabbatical year.

Robert Azzi, a Nieman fellow employed by a photographic agency in New York, arranged the proposal for a possible trip with a friend of his while traveling in Saudi Arabia last summer.

If the invitation had been formalized it would have included all of the American fellows, two of whom are Jewish, but it would not have been extended to the five foreign journalists, who include one Israeli.

Azzi said the invitation would have followed precedents set by the invitations by Japan.

The Saudis proposed the invitation in the interest of developing an understanding of Third World nations, Azzi added.

Reaction to the rejected Saudi proposal among the fellows has been varied. Some have expressed their disappointment over the decision to restrict travel in general while others feel that the committee's decision was reasonable.

Tony Castro, a Nieman fellow and a reporter for the Houston Post, said yesterday he is surprised at the committee's reasons for canceling the trip and that travel for Niemans "to my knowledge has always been unrestricted."

Thomson sent a memo to the fellows on Nov. 19, saying that he was "struck, though not entirely surprised, by the intensity and unanimity of the committee's reaction" to the possible invitation to visit Saudi Arabia.

In addition to the committee's feeling that the Nieman year was "already very short," the memo said that foreign travel is "physically and psychologically disruptive."

Thomson said that trips to Canada fall into a "different category" because it is on the same continent as the United States, and the program has an "obligation to expose fellows to their problems."

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