Saudi Arabian billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal’s hopes of launching a news channel have been wiped out by Bahrain’s government. The channel was initially suspended within an hour or so of going on air earlier this month, but now the ‘ban’ is said to be permanent.
Bahrain’s Ministry of Information says all contracts between the Prince’s operation and Bahrain have been terminated, and instructions issued to dismantle the studios.
The station, Alarab TV, partly backed by Bloomberg Television, had employed about 280 staff locally and the tiny Gulf state of Bahrain had previously expressed a wish to establish a competitive media centre to rival that of nearby Dubai. Bahrain is widely recognised as having subsidised the establishing of the TV channel.
Reports suggest that the total investment topped some $200 million.
However, this is not the first time that broadcasters have fallen foul of Bahrain’s sensitivities. A plan by MBC, the leading Arabic-language broadcaster, to establish in 2004 the hugely popular Big Brother format in an Arabic version, and basing the Big Brother House in Bahrain, quickly caused an outrage locally. The show was quickly banned by the Bahraini authorities, and the production closed down.
Prince Alwaleed’s Alarab channel’s début on February 1 carried an interview with a Bahraini opposition figure, who represents the majority Shia population. However, Bahrain’s Sunni minority are also the rulers and closely align themselves with their ultra-conservative neighbours in Saudi Arabia.
As yet it is unclear as to whether Prince Alwaleed will re-establish a transmission centre. He has strong links with Beirut, where he owns the Rotana music and film channels, and also with Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox, where he maintains a stake-holding.