Gulf viewers deprived by diplomatic crisis

What happens if you are an innocent viewer based in Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and trying to watch a football game carried by beIN Sports, or trying to catch a news report from Al Jazeera?  The recent diplomatic row between Saudi Arabia and arch-rival Qatar is placing extreme strains on broadcasting in the region.

Dubai-based trade mag BroadcastPro-ME reported June 7th that subscribers to local services from e-Life or UAE’s telco Du have now been barred from viewing Qatar-based beIN and Al Jazeera. The report says that Al Jazeera’s network channels are no longer available in the UAE, nor are the broadcaster’s Web sites.  Etisalat, which manages the e-Life and ‘du’ services in the UAE, blames “technical reasons” for the interruptions.

A statement from ‘du’ adds: “We would like to confirm the services of beIN Sports are currently suspended. Our customer service teams will be in touch with all affected customers.”

Such are tensions in the region that widespread reports say that Qatari-based subscribers to UAE-based pay-TV service OSN are voluntarily cancelling their subscriptions out of solidarity with their government.

UAE-based The National newspaper quotes local subscribers grumbling about the apparent banning of beIN’s sports channels. “It’s frustrating that people who have paid to have these channels can no longer access them through no fault of their own,” he said. “Etisalat haven’t been helpful at all about the situation. If this situation persists, I don’t see why people should have to pay for something we aren’t getting.”

Saudi Arabia has prohibited access to Al Jazeera or its websites, and closed Al Jazeera’s offices in the Kingdom.

Jordan joined the objectors to Qatar and revoked the licence of Al Jazeera to operate in the country.

June 7th saw the UAE issue a ban on any citizen showing “sympathy” towards Qatar, whether on social media, or written, print, visual or verbal and threatens a $136,000 fine for transgressors (Dirhams 500,000).

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