x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Football row leads Mobily to stop ads

The issue sprang from comments made last month by Saleh al Tariki, a Saudi sports journalist.

Abu Dhabi Al Riyadiya 2, one of Abu Dhabi TV's sports channels, has lost the rights to broadcast the popular Saudi football league after a broadcast criticising the league's leadership. After the decision, which took effect on October 11, the channel was also informed that the Saudi telecommunications firm Mobily was withdrawing its advertising from the channel, according to Karim Sarkis, the executive director of broadcast at Abu Dhabi Media Company, which owns Abu Dhabi TV and The National. Mobily, an affiliate of Etisalat, sponsored the channel's Saudi football-related programming. It continues to advertise on other Abu Dhabi channels. Mr Sarkis confirmed that Abu Dhabi TV had received word last month from Arab Radio and Television (ART), the Saudi-owned pay-TV provider that owns the original broadcast rights to Saudi league games, that it would be terminating its sublicensing contract with Abu Dhabi TV. "We think it's from a mistaken interpretation of what happened on the [live] show, since it was a Saudi journalist who actually made the comments," Mr Sarkis said. The show in question was a mid-September broadcast of Line Six, a weekly live commentary programme about the Saudi league moderated by Mohammed Najeeb, the head of Abu Dhabi Al Riyadiya. Mr Najeeb said the theme of the show was an examination of who was responsible for shortcomings in Saudi football after the Saudi national team failed to qualify for the World Cup for the fifth time in a row. "Usually, when this happens, they sack the coach or they blame the players, so the team of Line Six asked the head of the football federation to resign," he said. Nawaf Tamini, the head of PR at ART, said the cancellation of the contract was less a question of emotion than of policy. "This is not because it upset somebody; it's because they didn't respect the agreement between us and them and between us and the Saudi authority," he said. "The agreement was simple. When you criticise, you have to be fair. There is not personal humiliation, no personal attack, no personal comments. And in this episode, I think they crossed a line." The line was crossed most controversially by Saleh al Tariki, a Saudi sports commentator who spends most of the week writing for papers in Saudi Arabia but flies in once a week to serve as a staff pundit for Abu Dhabi Al Riyadiya. "Real bravery would be for all those in charge to just resign," he said on the show in question, according to the Saudi e-journal Burnews.com. Mr Najeeb said that neither Mr al Tariki nor any of the other commenters participating in the discussion have been reprimanded. "We want to keep all of them," he said. "We were just talking transparently about real problems. And the reaction on the street is that more than 90 per cent support Abu Dhabi Sport." Mr Najeeb said he would continue to moderate Line Six, which never relied on clips from the games in the first place, he said. Mr Sarkis said that there were about 90 games left in this season, according to its deal with ART. "Abu Dhabi Sports had been doing extremely well in the Saudi market, so that won't help," he said. Lawyers from both sides are working out the financial details of the dissolution of the contract, the value of which was not disclosed. Since Abu Dhabi TV lost the contract, sports broadcasting rival Al Jazeera Sports bought the rights to a similar 90-game package, although Mr Tamimi said that that deal had been in the works before Abu Dhabi TV lost its contract. Mr Sarkis said that Mobily was still advertising on ADMC's other media properties. Mr Najeeb said Al Jazeera's desire for the Saudi league rights is evidence of the boost that Abu Dhabi TV's sports coverage gave to the league. "As much as the Saudi league gave the Abu Dhabi Sports brand, Abu Dhabi gave the Saudi league," he said. khagey@thenational.ae