För den som följer utvecklingen i mellanöstern är det ganska intressant att se hur stort det saudiska mediainflyttandet är. Paul Cochrane skriver om detta nedan.
The Arab Radio and Television Network (ART) came hot on the heels of MBC, founded by Saudi mogul Saleh Abdullah Kamel in 1993, with a line up of entertainment, music and sport.
ART was followed in 1994 with the then Rome-based Orbit Communications Corporation (the Orbit pay-per view network is now based in Bahrain), a subsidiary of the Saudi Arabian Mawarid Group, which ran a BBC Arabic Television channel from 1994 until 1996 when it was abruptly pulled off air.
In the same year that Orbit pulled the plug on BBC TV Arabic (which is set to restart soon, this time funded by the British taxpayer), ART’s Kamel bought 49% of the Cayman Islands-registered satellite channel Fada’iyya Al Lubnaniyya (the Lebanese Satellite Channel, LBC International), the pan-Arab version of the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC) TV channel.
In 2000, Kamel sold his shares to the world’s now thirteenth richest man, Saudi prince Al-Walid Bin Talal, for $100 million. Bin Talal is the Rupert Murdoch of media ownership in the Middle East, with his Kingdom Holding companies owning the region’s largest music label (Rotana Records), six music TV channels (Rotana Clip, Rotana Music, Rotana Gulf, Rotana Cinema, Rotana Tarab, Rotana Zaman), and a stake in Lebanese newspapers An Nahar and Ad Diyar in addition to his stake in LBCI (Bin Talal, incidentally, is the third largest shareholder in Murdoch’s News Corp., with 5.46% of voting shares).
Prince Khalid bin Sultan is also a shareholder in LBC and owner of pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat. Due to his position as Assistant Minister of Defense for Military Affairs, bin Sultan’s role as a shareholder is significant as he can be considered a state actor, and consequently able to exert certain pressure over LBC to pander to the Saudi establishment.
The only other political outlet in which the Saudi government has a reportedly direct stake, other than newspapers and domestic media outlets which are subjected to draconian laws within Saudi Arabia, is MBC’s all-news satellite channel Al Arabiya. This network was established in 2003 to counter Qatar’s Al Jazeera, a channel Riyadh has disliked ever since it went on air in 1996, rankled by investigative reports on corruption in many Arab countries and the airing of Osama bin Laden video statements. Al Jazeera was seen as so controversial that at one point Saudi Arabia banned men from watching television at cafes to prevent public discussions of what was on.
Although Saudi influence over the region’s newspaper business (particularly pan-Arab publications) still remains high, the significance of muzzling print press is not as great as it used to be. Like everywhere else on earth, the Middle East is tuning into TV news rather than picking up a paper.
“Newspapers are only important in so far as what intellectuals, journalists and politicians are reading. If you go to Arab countries and ask about a [newspaper] columnist, they won’t know who they are, but will know TV anchors,” said AbuKhalil.
The Big Issue
Saudi Arabia’s takeover of the region’s media is a reflection of what is occurring globally where a handful of multinational companies increasingly dominate the media. This spills over from entertainment into news coverage.
To Saudi Arabia such control is paramount in an era when the media is increasingly pervasive, because Riyadh’s political and economic clout – and the survival of the Royal family – depends on the kingdom retaining its position as a leading player in the region’s power politics. To retain this balance of power – held in the region by the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia against an ascendant Iran and non-governmental actors – informative and potentially damning news on the kingdom needs to be squashed.
Saudi Arabia’s approach to media under its control, and the harsh punishments on those that do not portray a rose-tinted view of the royal family and the kingdom, is mirrored in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, which have similarly draconian media laws to retain monarchical power bases. Qatar can be considered somewhat of an exception with Al Jazeera, but when it comes to the channel applying the same exposure to governmental malfeasance and social issues in Doha as it does elsewhere in the region, Al Jazeera comes up short.