Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud plans to launch a 24-hour Arabic-language news channel in partnership with Rupert Murdoch's Fox network, and has recruited the controversial Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi to head the station. In a statement issued by Prince Alwaleed's company Kingdom Holding, he said the new channel would "be an addition and alternative" for millions of Arab viewers, in competition with the existing channels, Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera.
Prince Alwaleed did not say when the network would begin broadcasting. Mr Khashoggi will be chief of the channel, overseeing news bureaus around the world. He was previously editor-in-chief of Saudi Arabia's Al-Watan, but resigned this year after the newspaper published an opinion piece questioning Salafism, a form of Islam at the heart of the conservative state. The article was written by the Saudi poet Ibrahim al Almaee and published while Mr Khashoggi was abroad. The editor later claimed that he did not agree with the points made in the article.
But Mr Khashoggi's previous clashes with the authorities, over issues such as women's rights and the religious police, added to speculation that he was forced to resign from his position at the newspaper. "We believe in Al-Watan newspaper and we believe in reform the newspaper is more important than I am and I hope it will continue," Mr Khashoggi said after resigning. "We may question social issues like women's rights but we should not have allowed an article to question the essence of faith."
Prince Alwaleed had previously said his news channel would not be produced through Kingdom Holding or his media company Rotana Holding, but would instead follow the business model of Mr Murdoch's Fox and Sky News channels. The move further cements business ties between Prince Alwaleed and Mr Murdoch's News Corp empire, which owns Fox. Prince Alwaleed has a 7 per cent stake in News, and in February News agreed to pay US$70 million (Dh257.1m) for a 9.09 per cent stake in Rotana.
The latter deal, the largest Middle East investment by Mr Murdoch, included an option to increase its stake to 18.18 per cent in the 18 months after completion. He expressed his interest in the Middle East media at the inaugural Abu Dhabi Media Summit last March. Mr Murdoch said the creative industries in the Arab world had great potential but growth depended on governments applying a "light hand" to matters such as protectionism and censorship.
"Human creativity flourishes in freedom," he said at the summit. "By making the decision for greater openness, you will signal the importance you have assigned to creativity in your plans for the future and declare your confidence in your people." Last December, Rotana and Fox International Channels signed a four-year, 100m riyal licensing content agreement with the Walt Disney Company, under which Disney content will be aired in the Middle East on Fox Movies and Fox Series channels.
Fox has its own branded channels on Rotana's free-to-air television platform, which is supported by advertising. Rotana is the world's largest producer of Arabic music and a major distributor of Arabic-language movies, with a library of more than 1,500 films. It also owns radio stations, a chain of cafes, a magazine, a digital media group and a bouquet of free-to-air television channels including LBC Sat, Cinema, Khalijiyah and Musica.
Prince Alwaleed said this year he planned to sell a stake in Rotana "in the coming two years" as part of plans to expand his presence in Middle East media. Prince Alwaleed was ranked last year by Forbes as the world's 19th wealthiest person. * with AP