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MBS revives Saudi media image with new TV channel

Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud speaks during the 14th Islamic Summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Mecca, Saudi Arabia on 1 June 2019 [BANDAR ALGALOUD /SAUDI KINGDOM COUNCIL/HANDOUT/Anadolu Agency]
Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad Bin Salman in Saudi Arabia on 1 June 2019 [BANDAR ALGALOUD /SAUDI KINGDOM COUNCIL/HANDOUT/Anadolu Agency]

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman is seeking to revive Saudi Arabia’s media image by launching a new TV news channel in the near future called Asharq, in cooperation with the US Bloomberg network, as well as launching a new look for Al Arabiya TV channel on Friday evenings.

Asharq TV channel is managed by the Saudi Research and Marketing Group, which also publishes Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper and Sayidaty magazine, and is supported by Mohammad Bin Salman’s brother, Ahmad. The channel was initially decided to be named Bloomberg, then Bloomberg Al-Arab, and later Bloomberg Asharq, before it was finally decided to relinquish the international name and to name the channel Asharq.

In recent years, Saudi Arabia has been subjected to a severe media attack, most especially following the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as the media remained in denial for 18 days. Once coverage began to be carried out, it was met with widespread mockery, as some put forward hypotheses such as that Qatar was responsible for the kidnapping and murder of Khashoggi.

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The international media has also been busy in recent years with the Saudi-Emirati aggression against Yemen and the massacres therein, and the differences within the ruling family in Saudi Arabia, and these issues will not likely be tackled by the new channel.

While the international media was completely preoccupied with the assassination crime, which appeared on top of the covers of major international newspapers and news headlines, the Saudi media was completely absent from the scene, and declined to cover it before it plunged into promoting the official version of the events.

However, checking the names in the newly-created TV channel does not indicate a major change in the upcoming Saudi media strategy, but rather a repetition of the Al Arabiya experiment and an attempt to reproduce the Sky News Arabia experience by hiding the propaganda media behind an international news brand.

The channel is run by the Palestinian media professional Nabeel Al-Khatib, coming from Al Arabiya, while its media screen is majorly topped by the Syrian media professional, Zeina Yazji, coming from Sky News Arabia, and the Palestinian Hadeel Alyan, coming from Al-Hadath, and perhaps the Iraqi Suhair Al-Qaisi, who left Al Arabiya years ago after several disagreements.

Al Arabiya TV channel will launch a new look on Friday evenings, which was delayed for more than a month, including the main studios, the channel’s logo, as well as Al-Hadath channel, in what the channel’s journalists describe as “the second start”.

Al Arabiya was launched in 2003, on the eve of the invasion of Iraq. It is considered one of the most prominent Saudi news channels and it adopts a line consistent with the authorities there. This has been evident in several news coverages, including the mysterious resignation of the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in 2017 only through the channel, while it later turned out that he was kidnapped with a group of Saudi princes.

Al Arabiya was decided to be the main competitor of the Qatari network, Al Jazeera, but in recent years, it found itself in competition with Sky News Arabia, and a war of “kidnapping” broadcasters and workers took place between them.

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