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27 August, 2017
Country

“Media of Princes” How did Saudi media gain control?

Foreword

In late 2007, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) released a report on the Tunisian paid ads published in some newspapers without referring to them as advertisements. Rather, they were published as part of an investigative report or documentary topics that carry charming headlines about the heaven of democracy in Tunisia, and a colored picture of Ben Ali alone or carrying a child marking the achievements he made in all fields.

The report was entitled “Who pays the price? Ads in the Egyptian newspapers to improve the image of the Tunisian dictatorship”

Zine El Abidine Ben Ali,Tunisia’s dictator who was toppled by the Tunisian revolution, was known for manipulating what journalists write in order to enhance his image and gloss over the miserable conditions especially in the filed of freedoms and the prevalent corruption in Tunisia.

Therefore, this study addresses how Saudi Arabia is controlling and dominating the Arab media- or a a big portion of it- by entirely owning several media outlets; newspapers, news channels, and entertainment satellite channels, which are owned by Saudi businessmen and shareholders.

Does this represent a mere investment? Do these media outlets, owned by Saudi businessmen and Emirs (princes), have an objective media role that is characterized by professional values and ethical standards?

Are there other specific views or messages that use media outlets to send them?

This is what this study is trying to answer.

 

Gamal Eid,

Executive Director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)

 

Introduction

Some people see that journalism is to publish what others don’t want to see as published, aside from this is considered public relations, which is the only thing remains in many Arab world’s countries.

Nowadays, it’s hard to talk about professional and independent media. Things go from bad to worse. During the recent years, dozens of independent journalists, who emerged after the Arab revolutions, have been dismissed and replaced, and their media platforms have been closed.

It has been years since the revolution of satellite channels, the Internet and social networking sites, however, the entertainment content is still dominating in many cases. Professionalism has faded away in most cases. How did media become combined with promotion to extremism or obscurity (media blackout), so that it has become the mouthpiece of presidents, princes, and those in power, until the existence of independent media voices has become an exception that proves the rule?

Who is responsible for this? Who brought us to this point?

Control

I was standing in the editorial room of our newspaper “al-Mostakela”, when the editor-in-chief decided to ban a news report about Saudi Arabia. At that time, I didn’t understand why he did so. We had a professional and exclusive press report! I surprisingly asked him, and he replied:

“Do you want Hajj (pilgrimage) visas be suspended?.. Your colleagues are happy with it”

I didn’t understand what visas he was talking about? But I realized the matter later.

I myself saw that Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Information is hosting for pilgrimage dozens of editors, writers, and TV presenters every year, and offers full Hajj package including travel tickets, hotel accommodation and mobility allowance, through invitations sent by the Saudi ambassador in Cairo to media workers who are the “Kingdom’s friends”.

Most press institutions, whether national or independent, receive a number of visas. Some newspapers make a lottery among colleagues, and some others give the Hajj visas only to the editors and their families.

In September 2015, “al-Khaleej Affairs” news website published an article entitled “Has pilgrimage became (the gulf rice) to stop the Egyptian media workers’ attack on Saudi Arabia?”, in which the writer believes that Hajj visas are provided to Egyptian media workers in return for halting their criticism of Saudi Arabia[1].

In the same context, documents released by WikiLeaks in June 2015 revealed that “there might be funding requests submitted by journalist Mostafa Bakri and Amr Khaled”.

There was also another leaked document entitled “Dar al-Hilal representative’s invoice”, which- according to WikiLeaks- is a memorandum from the Head of Information Affairs department at the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Culture and Information in the Kingdom, requesting to pay a check (cheque) of US $ 68,000 to the Egyptian institution “Dar al-Hilal”.

The request, made in February 2012, showed that “these funds had been set up because Dar al-Hilal published weekly articles, during Hajj season of 1432 AH, addressing the recent expansion projects of the Two Holy Mosques”.

And perhaps the articles referred to were that published in Al -Musawar Magazine affiliated with Dar al-Hilal, but the “confusing” writing style raises serious questions about how media is combined with the editorial policy, and does the reader know, while reading such reports, that he is reading pre-paid ads.

WikiLeaks documents also revealed that some newspapers did not receive any money because they published their reports without any prior coordination with the Saudi side.

A letter, entitled “Apology to an Egyptian newspaper”, sent by the Ministry of Culture and Information of the Saudi Arabia’s Embassy in Cairo, tells that after the ministry had received a message from the chairman of the board of directors of an Egyptian newspaper, attached by some copies of the newspaper and a bill of 5000 thousand Saudi riyals, in return for publishing a report on the occasion of the 81st Saudi Arabian National Day, asking to cash the check.

The Ministry of Culture saw that the newspaper had published the report without any previous agreement between the newspaper and the ministry; about what the newspaper intended to do and what their views were concerning the topic. Thus, the ministry wanted to inform the aforementioned body with this instruction.

As for “Oil & Gas World Magazine”, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had called on Cairo Embassy to  provide more information about the “funding request” submitted by the magazine, as reported by WikiLeaks.

In February 2012, the embassy replied arguing that the magazine’s chief executive is an energy economics expert. He is currently the chairman of “Oil & Gas World Magazine” and the head of  the Middle East Center for Energy Information (MECEI), and had previously worked in the State of Kuwait and  OAPEC, and that he is a well known figure in the field of energy and his opinion is so reliable. He also has relations with energy exprets and officials in many Arab countries, in addition to “adopting positive stances towards Saudi Arabia”, as is the case with what the magazine publishes.

In the same year (2012), the Saudi Embassy in Cairo decided to hire journalist Mohamed Mustafa Shardi to work as a media advisor to the embassy and establish its media office.

In a letter dated April 5, 2012, the Saudi Ambassador informed the Minister of Foreign Affairs that “the Media Office has been developed as ordered Your Highness,  and it was agreed after your deal with the Egyptian media Mohamed Shardi to attract a group of distinguished Egyptian media workers to work in the office”.

That’s why the Egyptian journalist Khaled Dawoud, in his article “Hajj at the treat of Saudi Arabia”  published in September 2015, said that “After a quarter of a century working in journalism, I realized that any Egyptian newspaper can criticize any member of the government, even the President himself, but the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a red line that cannot be crossed”[2].

Khaled explained that this is not based on political grounds only, but due to economic reasons as well; because any Egyptian newspaper that publishes any information deemed offensive by the the Saudi ambassador in Cairo may be banned from entering Saudi Arabia, which would result in heavy losses that would be hard to incur, given the size of investment, hard currency and ads resulted from the newspaper’s distribution in Saudi Arabia.

Khaled then wondered: “After a group of journalists and media workers had accepted such generous gift, how could they be able to address any issues relating to Saudi Arabia’s political stances, except by only supporting them?”.

 

Why this control?

But what does Saudi Arabia seek by dominating media? And if it seeks to control media in allied countries? How is the case with hostile states or with countries it wants to hack?

You can answer this question while you are watching your favorite channel.

You are now watching the most popular Arabic channel that airs American movies, and suddenly this ads comes up:

“It is called The Green Revolution.. hid by a black headband.. Looking for the truth, he found the harsh methods of repression and terrorism.. About a true story of the most criminal Iranian files”.

With such enthusiasm in defending human rights, , Saudi Arabia’s MBC2 broadcast an ad about a movie opposing repression, which it would be airing soon (28 February 2017)

MBC’s propaganda on social networking sites was focused on this movie”Rosewater”, which is a true story about an Iranian journalist exposing cases of repression, detention, and terrorism in Iran.

Hashtag #Kharif_al-Malali (Fall of Malalli) on MBC2 added a political dimension to the picture in a very clear way by airing a movie that talks about “repression” practiced by the Iranian authorities and their encroachment on human rights, in conjunction with the presidential and municipal elections in the Islamic Republic of Iran, in which Hassan Rouhani was declared winner.

“Rosewater” movie narrates the story of the Iranian reporter Maziar Bahari and his family after the Iranian authorities detained him after the 2009 presidential elections on a charge of collaborating with an American spy (media professional Jon Stewart), after being hosted in a TV interview.

Entertainment channels have become the patron of Sunni Islam against the Shiite state. The Saudi-Iranian conflict is presented to you while you are watching your favorite movies, through a batch of touching scenes coupled with speeches on repression, detention, and elections.

Elections.. and repression.

That’s very exciting in case it comes from Saudi Arabia.

 

The Internet

In an unprecedented move, Egypt decided to block a large number of websites critical of the Egyptian regime as of May 2017. In only one month, it blocked the following websites: Moheet, Almesryoon, Mada Masr, Al-Bedaya, Yanayer, and Al-Jazeera Net, as well as Al-Watan, Al-Arab, newspapers and the Qatari newspaper Al- Sharq.

Many sources, claimed to be “official” by Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper, defended the decision of blocking 21 websites, by publishing a report justifying the reasons behind making it.[3]

 

What does the report involve?

The report monitors what it called “experiences of countries” in blocking websites. I think you can imagine the name of the country that was at the forefront of the report.

Yes it is Saudi Arabia:

The report says: “The Saudi authorities blocked the Qatari media websites, including Al-Jazeera channels and Qatari newspapers’ websites. The Saudi ban of Qatari media outlets was due to the statements of the Emir of Qatar, which was quoted by Qatar News Agency Qena, as well as the Doha stances on the issue of supporting extremist groups and incitement against clashes in Bahrain. They justified the ban by a message on the website that reads “Sorry, the requested page is violating the regulations of Ministry of Culture and Information”.

The report adds: “In Saudi Arabia, hundreds of thousands of websites have been blocked for political, social and religious reasons. The Saudi Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) blocked 600,000 porn websites over the past two years, which aren’t included in the information crimes transgressions. In April 2017, CITC stated that it has dealt with more than 900,000 links which are breaching the law throughout 2016, calling on Internet users in KSA to report porn websites, adding that about 68% of these websites have been blocked (percentage of porn content is up to 92%), in addition to more than 1300 links offensive to children.”

This is how you can easily understand the impact of Saudi Arabia on the Arab world and what it carries to Egypt.

Saudi Arabia was able to acquire Internet access for the first time in 1997, and in the same year, the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) was established in order to search for the websites that are breaching the Saudi laws.

These restrictions include banning websites that are deemed to be violating the Islamic Law (Sharia’a), such as sex websites or these critical of the state’s internal or foreign policies.

According to CITC, the number of Internet users in the Kingdom amounted to 22.4 million by the end of the second quarter of 2016[4]. However, there are restrictions on Internet users. The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) warned the Saudi authorities against the consequences of resuming the execution of the flogging punishment sentenced against Saudi activist and blogger Raif Badawi, who was sent to prison on a charge of establishing a liberal website on the Internet.[5]

ANHRI said “The Saudi authorities insist to carry out an inhuman and outdated penalty that goes back to the Middle Ages”.

Remarkably, Raif Badawi was awarded Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2005 granted to him by the European Parliament.

The CITC asserted that it block the websites that are “incompatible with the true religion and that promote pornography.”

The Saudi Anti-Cyber Crime Law has been passed since 2007. It penalizes whoever produces or creates a material impinging on public order, religious values, public morals, and privacy, through the information network or computers.

In October 2014, Abdulaziz Al-Mulhim, Spokesman of the Ministry of Culture and Information, said that the ministry continues to aware all members of the society, through print, audio and video means, both traditional and new, towards the danger of deviant ideas that target the country, whether they came from Cyberspace or satellite channels.[6]

Saudi Arabia blocks websites of Shiite preachers or any others that call for certain ideologies such as liberalism or secularism, in addition to these critical of the state’s internal or external policies or calling for political reform.

Therefore, there are any free websites. But what about social media ones?

First of all, Saudi Arabia is a youth country. The total population of Saudi Arabia at the start of 2017 is 31 million and 740 thousand people, 19 million of them constitute young people whose age is below 35 years old. [7]

The country has the highest percentage and growth rate of Twitter users in the world, 51% of the Internet users in Saudi Arabia are regularly using the social networking site “Twitter”.

In his speech at the the Gulf Economic Media meeting 2013, the Saudi Minister of Culture and Information Abdul Aziz Khoja admitted that it is hard to monitor or control what is published on Twitter, urging social media users to raise their awareness and help the ministry in its censorship process. [8]

They want social media users to monitor what people write because they- unfortunately and woefully-

cannot do so.

 

But they didn’t rely on self censorship. They took other measures by their own, to show you who the sons of deviant people are.

Major General Mansour al-Turki[9], the security spokesman of the Ministry of the Interior, acknowledged that there is a censorship on social media, affirming that there are “a group of deviant people” who use social networking sites to publish posts that bare offensive messages.

In late October 2014, the police detained a female activist and women rights defender because of some comments on Twiter, in which she defended the right of Saudi woman to drive cars. And in December 2016, a Saudi girl was arrested after she posted a picture of her in the street wearing modest clothes but without a scarf on her head.

Yes, she was arrested for merely sharing a picture of her through her “Facebook” account, or because she want women to drive cars.

Now there are further moves when it comes to Saudi Arabia dealing with social media. The name of Al-Waleed Bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al Saud has to be mentioned here.

In 2013, Al-Waleed increased his stake that he owns in “Twitter” to 5.17%, becoming the second largest shareholder after Ivan Williams, former CEO and one of co-founders of Twitter. Al-Waleed bought a 3% stake in the company in 2011 before holding the Initial Public Offering (IPO)- the first time that the stock of a private company is offered to the public- two years in later (in 2013). The current 35 million shares worth $ 1 billion- including 30 million shares directly owned by the Prince and five million by his holding company.

This is how things go. But did the domination of media begin at the time of social networking websites or from an earlier time?

 

How did the control begin?

The domination began with the press.

All newspapers published in Saudi Arabia are owned by the private sector, but in some way or another, they are all under the state’s control.

Since the first moment, the Saudi state is leading everything.

Theoretically, nothing is affiliated with the state, but practically, everything belongs to the state.  Since the first moment, all Saudi newspapers are entirely subject to state control. No newspaper is allowed to be issued except upon a royal order.

Since the 1970s, Saudi Arabia has started to move forward as a media giant through “Asharq Al-Awsat” (Middle East) newspaper, one of the leading newspapers in the Arab press. Launched in London in 1978 and printed in 14 cities, the paper offers its readers an in-depth analysis, based on a huge budget that enables it to provide a comprehensive coverage in the entire Arab world.

The newspaper is owned by Prince/ Emir Turki bin Salman Al Saud.

An Emir.. Salman and Al-Saud.. This is how things have been going in the beginning. Rulers are tightening their grip on media.

Together with “Asharq Al-Awsat”, there was “Al-Hayat Londonia” newspaper, which both formed the spearhead of the Saudi media. And what is remarkable here is that they both are headquartered in London.

Thus, we can conclude that there isn’t any sort of Saudi media that is regionally-based or being launched from Saudi Arabia.

As for the “Saudi internal affairs” newspapers, they have become very localized; as they tend to keep themselves away from any social or political issues, and turned to just publishing public relations publications, since most of the issues are banned from publishing.

Modern means of communication were not available in the Kingdom at time of the restoration of King Abdul Aziz Riyadh. There were only some newspapers that have slight influence, such as “Hijaz” newspaper, which is the first official newspaper issued in the Hijaz region. It is a weekly newspaper that is issued in Turkish And Arabi, and was released in 1884 during the Ottoman era, under the rule of Turkish governor Osman Nuri Pasha. Along with “ Hijaz”, there were also “Shams al-Haqiqa”, “al-Safa”, and “al-Islah” newspapers.

“ Umm al-Qura” newspaper constitutes the real beginning of the Saudi press. It is the first official weekly newspaper to be published under the rule of Saudi Arabia in 1924.

It is noticeable that Saudi press is not centralized, and this may be more compatible with the nature of the newspapers which tend to provide propaganda services more than real journalism. “Al-Nadwa” newspaper was founded in Makkah, whereas “Okaz” was established in Jeddah in 1960, and “Al-Yawm” newspaper in Dammam, while “Al-Madina Al-Munawwarah” was founded in April 1937 in Jeddah. “Alriyadh” newspaper, however, is considered the first paper whose first issue was released in Egypt until it was printed in Riyadh. “Al-Watan newspaper” was founded in  Abha and then moved to Jeddah later, and so on.

Despite being privately owned, all these newspapers need a royal approval (decree) in order to be established.

 

Television.. its start

Had all the satellite channels been cut off suddenly?

This was my thought when Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz died on  23 January 2015 at the age of 91.

All top-rated and most-watched TV channels cut to readings from the Koran. All satellite channels did that, including the foreign and the Arab movies channels, entertainment and religious channels.

The Arab media stopped, because the Arab media is- mostly- Saudi. This was strange somehow because Saudi Arabia doesn’t produce songs nor Arab films except in rare cases, and doesn’t basically have first- row stars of singers, actors or directors. Nevertheless, Saudi satellite channels are at the forefront.

This domination came despite the weak and late start of television broadcasting. The official Saudi broadcast began in 1965, five years after its launch in Cairo.

The Saudi Radio and Television Corporation- SRTC- is running the state’s official radio and television channels (9 TV plus 6 radio channels) in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi TV channels are: Saudi TV Channel 1 (KSA 1), Saudi TV Channel 2 (KSA 2), Holy Quran TV, Sunnah TV, Al-Ekhbariya (news) TV, Al-Saqafyia (culture) TV,  Al Riyadiya (sport) TV, and Ajyal TV.

All these channels have one common factor: they are all non-influential and have weak impact as no hears about them.

But this setback was followed by a tremendous renaissance and obvious leadership, but this time was in the field of satellite channels. In 1990, the Saudi ARA Group was  founded in London  to launch MBC as the first Arab satellite broadcasting from Dubai.

Then, the Arab Radio and TV Network- ART- founded by the Saudi tycoon Saleh Kamel was launched in 1993, after withdrawing from MBC TV networks. Based in Jeddah (Saudi Arabia), ART is the first Arab TV network that is encrypted and cannot be watched except through paid subscription.

Thereafter, there was the “Orbit Group”, which is also based on the paid membership subscription system, and is owned by Prince Bandar bin Mohammed bin Saud.

It’s worth mentioning that Prince Bandar is married to his cousin Princess Al-Bandari Bint Abdul Aziz Al Saud, the tenth daughter of King Abdul Aziz.

This was just a note.

In addition to that, there are Almajd TV Network, affiliated to Saudi-based Ola Al Majd Trading Est. headquartered in Riyadh but started broadcasting from Dubai in November 2002, and has  studios in Dubai, Riyadh, Amman and Cairo. It has a Saudi satellite network, which is deemed to be working in accordance with the “Sharia’a provisions or Islamic Law regulations”. It includes the following channels: Al-Majd Main General Channel,  Al Majd Quran TV,  Al Majd Hadith (prophetic narrations) TV, Al-Majd Ilmiya (Religious Sciences) Channel, Al-Majd News Channel, Al-Majd Al Wasaqia (Documentary) Channel, Al Tabiya (Second Documentary Channel), Radio Dal for Children, Al-Majd Kids Channel, Basma (Cartoon Channel for Kids),  Al-Majd Fakkar-o-La’ab (Think & Play), Massah (program and drama for young). Al Majd satellite channel network involves various Saudi channels that work within the Islamic legitimate disciplines.

This is in addition to “Spacetoon” TV channel, owned by some Saudi businessmen in cooperation with a Japanese company directed to children, which is headquartered in Jeddah and broadcast from Bahrain.

There are many Satellite channels and a huge sum of money being spent. In April 2016,  Bandar bin Ahmad Asiri, Acting President of the General Commission for Audiovisual Media revealed that size of investment at the authority in Saudi Arabia is worth 9.5 billion riyals.

 

IPSOS.. The most influential conflict

In March 2015, a report by the Arab States Broadcasting Union (ASBU) revealed that the number of satellite channels, broadcast or re-broadcast by Arab public and private organizations, was amounted to 1394 channels. ASBU attributed the boom in satellite channels to the growing role of the private sector.

The report shows that the total number of channels specialized in Arab satellite broadcasting is arranged according the following table: [10]

 

Number of channels

 

Satellite channels category

170 channels

 

 

Sports satellite TV

152 channels  

Drama satellite TV

124 channels  

Singing satellite TV

95 channels  

Religious satellite TV

68 channels  

News satellite TV

 

Numbers seem very big. Also, during the recent two years, they have increased a little bit. But, who is the most dominant, important and influential? And what is the impact these satellite channels have on the Arab world?

It might seem a simple question, but it is difficult to reach to a piece of information in field of media in this world, and the worse thing is that it is a blooming question. Numbers do not necessarily reflect the truth because the source of the numbers itself is suspicious.

In December 2014, the famous research company IPSOS released a list of the most-watched TV channels by the Egyptian audience in the last week of November.

According to the research, “MBC Masr” is the most-viewed channel topping the “CBC, CBC Sofra, Al-Hayah, and Sada Al-Bald”, as well as Channel 1 (Maspero), while “MBC Masr 2” occupied the 7th place before “Al-Nahar”, “Dream 2” and “Rotana Cinema”.

IPSOS is the most famous opinion poll firm, and apparently the most efficient one in the field of media. The firm is telling us that Saudi TV satellite has become the most viewed in Egypt itself.

At first glance, the figures are confirming that there is a sweeping Saudi supremacy even in Cairo. Egyptians do watch Saudi satellite channels.

But things aren’t that simple. A group of Egyptian Satellite “Al-Nahar, Al-Hayah, CBC, ON TV, and Dream” had filed manifold reports[11] complaining of the material and moral damage resulting from what they called ballot rigging made by “IPSOS” in favour of some foreign channels.

Albert Shafik, head of Al-Nahar TV network, asserted, at that time, that all Egyptian TV channels will be resorting to the Chamber of Audio-Visual Media Industry to put an end to IPSOS’s manipulation of Egypt’s satellite . They said that the research company is playing with the polls results and re-arranging the TV channels ratings in accordance with its whims and interests with other Arab satellite, adding that the Egyptian entities will not remain silent anymore over such transgressions.

In their complaints, the aforementioned channels confirmed the lack of credibility of the reports released by “IPSOS”, saying that it issues false data away from any sort of professionalism, which severely harm the Egyptian channels. They also accused the company of threatening the country’s national security and manipulating the reports in favour of foreign TV channels.

Of course they mean by these foreign channels the Saudi channels.

It’s clear that the competition here is not just about pumping money, but there are other dimensions in the Arab media market.

 

Entertainment channels serve conservative views

In September 2008, Sheikh Saleh Al-Luhaidan, head of the Saudi Supreme Judiciary Council, issued a fatwa sanctioning the killing of satellite TV owners who air shows that promote “strife, corruption, sorcery, and quackery”.

But Al-Luhaidan, afterwards, stressed that he meant to say that such measure has to implemented by the judiciary, and that he had previously urged the owners of TV channels to obey Allah and refrain from airing any programming or shows that corrupts morals, such as the practice of magic, or series that contain obvious heresy and promote licentiousness and wantonness.[12]

He added, “If the owners of these channels fail to obey government orders and persist in corrupting the public with their broadcasts, the law permits the government to kill them. Naturally, the judge issues his ruling in accordance with the judicial systems known in the Kingdom.”

They will tell you: He killed him because he was airing a show in accordance with the laws and judicial systems known in the Kingdom.

In May 2017, Sheikh Dr. Abdullah Al Mutlaq, a consultant of the Royal Diwan and a member of the Senior Scholars Council, launched an attack against the owners of TV satellite channels for spending millions on the production and purchase of series and shows that he described as “inappropriate” to be aired in the month of Ramadan.

Al-Mutlaq said, “Satellite channels air programs and series that harm the spirituality of this holy month. They harm the Muslims as well.” calling upon God not to bless their what satellite owners are doing and make them suffer losses in their work in order not to do it again”. [13]

Thus, it’s no surprise that amidst such atmosphere we find all Saudi satellite channels working from outside the Saudi territory. In February 2015, the Saudi “Shura Council” ratified the country’s Audiovisual Media law, which would impose a mandatory dress code for women presenters and female anchors, determining the degree to whom they should be covered. [14]

A dress code!! This doesn’t happen in any country:

In spite of attempts by Saudi satellite channels to satisfy the conservative trend, all they do seems to be not enough. In its translation of foreign movies, MBC usually denies the existence of homosexuals or atheists by paraphrasing any dialogue talking about them and- even- entirely removing scenes, which might deform or distort the meaning of the artwork. Nevertheless, in November 2011,  MBC MAX apologized for airing some scenes in “Into the Wild” film calling them “inappropriate”.[15]

MBC apologized for its activities on social networking websites as well, including posting tweets as part of the hashtag campaign “Be free”.[16] It issued a statement apologizing for sharing these tweets that it omitted following the Prince Abdul Aziz bin Fahad’s comments, in which he threatened to hold those responsible accountable and “destroy” them if they don’t remove the hashtag.

MBC group said “Our administration is conducting investigations in its offices in Dubai, Beirut and Cairo to know further details about these tweets, which its office in Cairo is responsible of.

MBC administration ordered the dismissal of three of it officials, including the director of social media.

 

How did it achieve this domination?

The satellite was originally started by a Saudi hegemony over the Arab domain.

On 16 April 1976, the Arab Satellite Communications Organization (ARABSAT) was established in the Arab capital of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Since its first launching, satellite channels are headquartered in Riyadh. The start was from Riyadh.

In 1978, a consultancy service contract was signed to build an Arab satellite operator to be used by the Arab governments. Although it is theoretically owned by the League of Arab States, it is practically under a Saudi control. Arabsat’s shares are concentrated in the hands of the following Arab countries: [17]

The proportion of each state in the ownership of Arabsat:

 

Percentage of its share to Arabsat

 

State

 

36.7%

 

Saudi Arabia

 

14.6%

 

Kuwait

 

11.3%

 

Libya

 

9.8%

 

Qatar

 

4.7%

 

UAE

 

4%

 

Jordan

 

3.8%

 

Lebanon

 

2.5%

 

Bahrain

 

2.1%

 

Syria

 

1.9%

 

Iraq

 

1.7%

 

Algeria

 

1.7%

 

Yemen

 

1.6%

 

Egypt

 

1.2%

 

Oman

 

0.7%

 

Tunisia

 

0.6%

 

Morocco

 

0.3

 

Sudan

 

0.3%

 

Mauritania

 

0.2%

 

Palestine

0.2%  

Somalia

0.1%  

Djibouti

 

The difference between the percentage of ownership shares between Egypt and Saudi Arabia discloses a lot with regard to the ownership of “ARABSAT”, the Arab balance of power and to whom it was inclining; at time the Arab boycott of Egypt had escalated and oil revenues flowed into the treasury of Saud’s family members.

The Arabsat 1A was launched in February 1985 by the French rocket Ariane. In the same year, Arabsat, 1B was launched by the US shuttle “Discovery”.

In 1991, ARABSAT entered into a contract with the German firm “Datacon” for a 2nd Generation Satellites. Then, it led a contract with Astrium French companies, which launched the First Generation of Arabsat satellite, to start launching Arabsat-2A and Arabsat-2B. In April 1996, a new contract was signed with the Canadian “TeleSat” for the launching of the Third Generation satellites “BADR-3”, whereas the Fourth Generation of Arabsat satellite “BADR-6” was launched in May 2006.

ARABSAT is working with the Fifth Generation of satellites, and its first satellite is “BADR-3”, which was launched in 2010.

The launching the Egyptian satellite “NileSat” had harmed the Arab satellite “Arabsat” for years, which led the latter to sign a partnership agreement with the Qatari Satellite Company “Es’hailSat 1”[18], under which the satellite is to operate at 26 degrees east, on the same Arabsat’s orbit degree, which would the Arabsat receivers to have access to “Es’hailSat” channels without incurring any additional fees.

Arabsat’s CEO, Khalid Bin Ahmed Balkheyour, attributed his company’s cooperation with Es’hailSat to the Egyptian channels’ rejection to broadcast on Arabsat without charge. Hence, he found that the solution is to work with Es’hailSat and beIN Sports  TV.

Consequently, the Egyptian satellite “NileSat” saw that launching the Qatari satellite Es’hailSat had resulted in reducing the number of its satellite channels[19], and negatively influenced its activity. Its profits shrank by 2% after the Qatari satellite had expelled some Egyptian and Arab clients.

In this context, the Egyptian writer Abdullah al-Sanawi[20] warned about the danger of the cooperation between the Qatari “Es’hailSat” and the Saudi Arabsat against the Egyptian satellite, shedding light on the monopoly the Qatari satellite has on sport events.

What is remarkable here is that the loss was caused by a Saudi-Qatari alliance despite the powerful Egyptian-Saudi diplomatic relations at that particular time, compared to the Saudi-Qatari media conflict, but it seems that in politics, there is no a lifelong friend nor ally.

And maybe in media as well.

 

Who is controlling?

How is Saudi Arabia controlling the Arab media? And who heads and owns and these media platforms?

There is a specific group of Saudi media empires’ owners, and of course, the common factor here is their affiliation to the Saudi royal family, the most prominent of whom are:

 

Waleed Al Ibrahim

MBC (Middle East Broadcasting Center) Group: The main channel MBC1, MBC2 that airs foreign movies, the kid’s entertainment channel MBC3 , MBC4, MBC Action, MBC Persia, MBC Max, MBC Bollywood, MBC HD, MBC Misr, MBC Misr plus, Panorama FM, Wanasah,  “Al Arabiya” News Channel, Al Hadath, and the c entertainment web portal “SHAHID”.

This is just part of what is owned by Waleed bin Ibrahim bin Abdul Aziz Al Ibrahim, owner of  Middle East Broadcasting Center “MBC”, and the brother of Princess Al Jawhara, widow of former monarch King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud.

Al-Waleed founded MBC Group as the first free-to-air entertainment TV network. It was the first TV network to air the Arabic-language version of the international shows, such as “Arab Idol”, “Arabs Got Talent”, “The Voice”, and “The Biggest Winner” in addition to others.

The MBC Group is the largest Arab entertainment television network. It includes channels broadcast since 2002 from Dubai Media City network.

The spearhead of the MBC Group is “Al Arabiya” News TV, which is not officially affiliated with the Saudi regime, but at the same time is considered the mouthpiece of the Saudi government.

Al-Arabyia TV was established in response to the emergence of “Al-Jazeera” TV that was singled out at that time, and on 3 March2003, during the US war on Saddam to oust him from power, Al-Arabyia started to compete with it.

After its establishment, Al-Arabyia TV was headed by former Jordanian Minister of Information Saleh al-Qalab. A year later, Abdulrahman Al-Rashed became the general manager of the channel.

It’s believed that Al-Arabyia TV was founded as an alternative media outlet that is more moderate than Al-Jazeera, and its website (occupied by CNN from Fox News) is known for its objective coverage of news rather “screaming out”.

Al-Arabiya was broadcast by the Egyptian Company for Media Production City in Egypt and now broadcasts from Dubai Media City in the United Arab Emirates.

“Al-Arabyia.net” website was launched in 2004 in Arabic. Its English version was made in 2007, and a year after, a Farsi and Urdu versions were added to the website.

During the Iranian presidential elections in 2009, the Iranian government closed the office of Al-Arabiya TV, after complaining that Al-Arabiya’s coverage of Iran is biased. [21]

In May 2017, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani issued statements that did not appeal to Saudi Arabia. The Qatar News Agency (QNA) website quoted the Qatari Emir saying that Trump is facing some legal issues in his country revealing tension in the Emir’s relationship with Trump administration. Although QNA asserted its website had been hacked and denied these claims, Al-Arabyia continued its attack by publishing news headlines like: “Qatar spares no effort to be the voice of extremist groups”, or “With evidences, QNA website was not hacked”.

That was the media prelude to Saudi Arabia and its allies’ cutting of ties with Qatar.

On the other hand, the Egyptian revolution had reached the gatekeeper of the Saudi media. The Egyptian TV presenter “Hafez al-Mirazi” announced, immediately after the overthrow of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, that he will dedicate an episode of his program to discuss the impact of Mubarak’s stepping down on Saudi Arabia, and that he will hand in his resignation if officials won’t allow him to do so. [22]

Al-Mirazi then criticized the Saudi media which wouldn’t dare to criticize the Saudi King while at the same time gives itself the right to criticize other leaders. He announced that he would resign in case he will not be allowed to criticize the Saudi regime the same way he criticizes the Egyptian regime during the Arab Spring.

What was the result?

It was the last time al-Mirazi appeared on the Egyptian TV.

 

 

 

 

Alwaleed bin Talal

Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud ..

Alwaleed’s media investments (Alwaleed Media Group) includes: Rotana Media Network, which has a very large entertainment network; the leading record label Rotana Video & Audio Visual Company or Rotana Records, alongside Rotana Group network or Rotana TV:  Rotana Clip, Rotana Music, Rotana Cinema, Rotana Zaman, Rotana Khalijia and Rotana Masryia.

To mention but a few, Alwaleed also owns Al-Resalah TV network, which was launched in 2006 and headed by Dr.Tariq Al-Suwaidan before he was fired by the channel’s administration in 2013 against the backdrop of his stances with regard to the ruling power of 3 July in Egypt.

Alwaleed tried to launch a news network “Al-Arab”,  but he closed it and dismissed its employees in February 2017 after a dispute with the host country Bahrain over its editorial policy after hosting a Bahraini opposition figure on the first day of its broadcast.[23]

In addition to that, Alwaleed owns Fox Arabia TV network in partnership with Fox International. He has substantial shareholding in Time Warner, CNN’s parent company, as well as Disney. Alwaleed’s media stakes extend to the former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Economic reports say he invested half a billion dollars in the Italian firm MediaSat and up to $ 100 million in the German media giant “Kirch Media”, one of the leading media corporations in Europe.

Rotana was launched in 1982, but at the beginning of the millennium it became the most important company in the music world. In 2003, Rotana swept the board in the free-to-air satellite TV by its music and movies channels. And when songs channels gained less attention, Rotana reduced its music channels to only two: Rotana Music and Rotana Clip, in addition to “Rotana Zaman” that airs old songs.

Rotana Zaman is also specialized in airing the classic Arabic movies, then came “Rotana Masryia” which was launched in 21 May 2011, and in 2012, “Rotana Classic” was opened.

Rotana Group is the largest producer of Arab songs contracting with more than 150 artists and singers.

According to its official website, Rotana produced several albums for many high-profile singers during 2016, which shows its dominance on the Arab singing market.

The official website further says: One of the fruitful things in 2016 is the company’s contracting with the famous ‘nasheed artist’ (religious singer) Sheikh Mishary bin Rashid Al Afasy. It produced his social album “Qalbai Mohamed”. Also, it releases an album for the newly-emerged Saudi singer “Sehab”. This is in addition to releasing a new section entitled “Rotana Talent” to discover and give support for the young people (between the ages of eight and sixteen) with talents.

Everything is available there; singers, religious songs (inshad), and kids songs, everything is dominated by Rotana.

The most important thing is that the Rotana network has an Arabic library with an estimated 2,500 films. It has always been noticeable that a company affiliated with a country with no cinema houses dominates the Arab world’s movie heritage.

In the same context, out of 5000 cinematic films, Egypt owns only 365- which are owned by the Egyptian Ministry of Culture. Dr. Khaled Abdel Jalil, advisor to the Minister of Culture for Cinema, said: “Egypt’s cinema heritage amounted to 5000 films, 1500 of which are owned by “ART” channels and nearly 1600 films by Rotana and 500 owned by the “Al Arabia Cinema Production & Distribution”, while on the other hand, the Egyptian Company for Light and Sound- affiliated with the Ministry of Culture- only owns 365 movies and1000 documentary films. [24]

The Saudi businessmen dominating Egyptian films had raised widespread fears among Egyptian filmmakers, especially after it was claimed that Sheikh Saleh Kamel bought all the films of his wife “Safaa Abu Al-Saud” and banned them from being aired on TV under the pretext that her clothes are not appropriate. Also, the movies of actress “Shams el-Baroudi” had become prohibited among Egyptians when she asked to ban them. So, many Egyptian movies, which were produced in a climate of social freedom, had disappeared.

Echoing the “successful” experience with TV satellite, Saudi Arabia also tried to ban the Internet sites. During its special meeting held in Cairo on 12 February 2008, the Arab ministers of information adopted “Principles for Organizing Satellite Broadcast and Television Transmission and Reception in the Arab Region.”

Dr. Ayad bin Amin Madani, the-then- Saudi minister of information, said that the kingdom was one of the first countries that took the initiative to present such matter on media officials.

The minister defended the initiative by saying that it is important for regulating the work of Arab satellite that has become flowing in each direction, as is the case in Europe and USA. [25]

However, the document, which Saudis wanted to catch the Arab region, includes several restrictions; loose and vaguely-worded articles that restrict freedom of expression under no specific criteria, such as: Taking into account the etiquette of dialogue, adherence to the timetable established by the competent authority censoring the program’s content, ensuring that satellite channels don’t broadcast what would affect or insult national and religious symbols (of other Arab states), and to responsibly and consciously exercise freedom of expression.

Therefore, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) deemed the document to “have curbed freedom of information and imposed strict restrictions on the freedom of broadcasting”. [26]

Overall, the document did not succeed, often because those who drafted it failed to put the detailed regulations for their implementation.

And perhaps owing to the remarkable distinction between the power of the Saudi capital in the field of media and the historic inability and failure to attract this media within the territory of Saudi Arabia,  Dr. Riyadh K. Najm[27], President of the General Commission for Audiovisual Media in Saudi Arabia, announced that the commission will provide all potential facilities for those who benefit from its services, calling on the owners of Saudi satellite channels to expand their investment in the Kingdom, where there will be an environment encouraging fro investment in this field, in line with what he called the Islamic Law (Sharia) provisions.

It seems that this man will be waiting for satellite owners to return to broadcast their channels from inside Saudi Arabia.

 

Conclusion

Not only does Saudi Arabia use news and entertainment channels as a shield in its sectarian regional conflict, or pass internal legislations provide prison terms for whoever publishes on the Internet what would harm the public order, religious values, or public morals, but also it exceedingly attempts to use journalists and newspapers as being their mouthpiece. This is in addition to attempts to censor the Internet by blocking websites it deems incompatible with religion or which it accuses of promoting pornography.

Also, Saudi Arabia continues its activity to be extended within the Arab countries, to the extent that it is accused of playing with the most-watched polls’ results in the favor of Saudi satellite channels at the expense of other channels affiliated with other countries.

Such domination involves the Egyptian newspapers as well; through Hajj (pilgrimage) trips and advertisement, and sometimes it did succeed, to the extent the security bodies in Egypt looks at Saudi Arabia as an example to has to be followed in the blocking and censoring of websites.

Amid such massive expenses and huge media empires, and while the princes/Emirs of the royal family seize control of a huge proportion of visual and printed media, the impact is extended to consolidate the ideology that combines political views with the religious ones under the cloak of the extremist religion.

The ideology of the Sunni state against the Shiite state, on one hand;

The degradation of the controversy, and the promotion of the principle of obedience towards clerics and rulers, on the other hand.

And between a media show that is directed and carefully selected, and media workers receiving care and gifts, the message and role of media fades away, from a censor or a critic to a one who always praises what is presented.

Media, thus, is turned from the media of the public to the media of the Emirs.

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