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Nart Bouran, the head of Sky News Arabia, speaks to the press before fielding questions. Lee Hoagland / The National
Nart Bouran, the head of Sky News Arabia, speaks to the press before fielding questions. Lee Hoagland / The National

Sky News Arabia lines up launch for May 6

Sky News Arabia is set to hit the airwaves on May 6, and has appointed an independent committee it says will help to preserve its żeditorial integrityż.

Sky News Arabia is set to hit the airwaves on May 6, and has appointed an independent committee it says will help to preserve its "editorial integrity".

The Arabic news station, based in Abu Dhabi, says it has hired almost 400 employees prior to the launch over Middle East satellite and cable TV networks.

Nart Bouran, the head of Sky News Arabia, says the station will "provide a fresh approach to news broadcasting" in the region.

It aims to "deliver impartial and independent news to 50 million households and change the face of news broadcasting in the region", he said.

Sky News Arabia's launch confirmation came on the same day it emerged that James Murdoch is to step down as the chairman of British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB).

The new station is part of a joint venture between Abu Dhabi Media Investment Corporation, a private investment company owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, and BSkyB, which owns the Sky News brand, and in which Rupert Murdoch's troubled News Corp empire holds a stake.

James Murdoch - who was in Abu Dhabi last year to announce details of Sky News Arabia - is under increasing pressure over his role in the phone hacking scandal that has rocked the British media industry.

The executive was due to step down last night, according to a report first broadcast by the Sky News English-language station.

News Corp owns 39 per cent of BSkyB and abandoned a plan to buy the remaining stake during the uproar over phone hacking.

James Murdoch previously quit as chairman of News International, News Corp's British newspaper division, after allegations that its journalists had illegally intercepted phone messages of prominent people.

The 24-hour Sky News Arabia - an offshoot of the UK television brand - will be available on Nilesat and Arabsat satellites, as well as the pay-TV network OSN and television platforms run by Etisalat and du.

An editorial committee has been appointed to help maintain the channel's independence, and "aims to create a new culture for Arab journalism", Mr Bouran said.

Members of the panel include James Zogby, the president of the Arab American Institute, and Roger Alton, the executive editor of The Times and a former editor of The Independent and The Observer.

This will ensure that Sky News Arabia will not be "reflecting the point of view of a certain person or a certain organisation", said Mr Bouran.

"We are adamant on remaining independent," he said.

"The editorial advisory committee is an entity that ensures that's exactly what we do."

The 24-hour station is based at the Abu Dhabi media hub twofour54.

The station will have 12 dedicated bureaus, in cities such as Cairo, London, Washington, Beirut, Baghdad, Islamabad and Gaza.

It will also use facilities at some of the Sky News English-language bureaus in Britain.

It will vie for audience share and advertising revenue with the two incumbent news stations, Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya.

Sky News Arabia will also compete with Alarab, a station being launched by the Saudi billionaire Prince Al Waleed bin Talal, which is set to launch in December and will be based in Bahrain.

The four news stations will compete in a crowded TV market, which - across all stations - shares estimated advertising revenue of just US$1 billion (Dh3.67bn).

Mazen Nahawi, the president of News Group International, a Dubai company that specialises in media monitoring, said Sky News Arabia would find it "challenging" to become profitable, given the cost of producing TV news.

"It's going to be very hard for them to be profitable," he said.

"They're going to have to make some major inroads with sponsors. They are going to have to invest heavily in marketing."

However, Mr Nahawi was confident that Sky News Arabia would be able to maintain editorial independence.

"It is feasible that they will have significant independence," he said. "They have the opportunity to seriously compete. It all comes down to how good their reporters are."

Mr Nahawi's News Group International is associated with News Corp through an agreement to market the Dow Jones Factiva service in the Middle East and North Africa.

bflanagan@thenational.ae

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