TV channel runs foul of Bahraini authorities
Plug pulled after interview with opposition activist
MANAMA // The new pan-Arab news channel backed by a Saudi prince was taken off the air just hours after it broadcast an interview with a prominent opposition activist.
The Bahrain-based Alarab TV station said on its Twitter feed that coverage was halted for “technical and administrative reasons”, and it hoped to be back on the air soon. It went live on Sunday afternoon.
The unexpected stoppage, apparently on the order of Bahraini authorities, came just hours after Alarab surprised many viewers by featuring Bahraini opposition activist Khalil Al Marzooq as one of its first guests.
Yusuf Mohammed, the media director at Bahrain’s information affairs authority, cited similar reasons as the channel for its being “temporarily suspended” in comments to the official Bahrain News Agency.
He said authorities were working with Alarab “to swiftly resolve the matter” and he expected the channel would resume broadcasting soon.
A brief front-page article in the pro-government Akhbar Al Khaleej newspaper said the channel’s broadcasts had been suspended because they did not conform to Arabian Gulf norms.
Viewers tuning into the channel yesterday morning were only able to see prepackaged promotions for the network, not news programming.
Mr Al Marzooq is a former deputy parliament speaker who is a senior member of Al Wefaq, the country’s main Shiite political bloc. He was cleared of allegations of instigating violence and having links to a protest faction that authorities blamed for bombings and other attacks in a closely watched case last year.
He was asked to discuss Bahrain’s decision on Saturday to revoke the citizenship of 72 people. The list included Turki Al Binali, a 30-year-old who was one of ISIL’s leading ideologues. It also included several Shiite activists living in exile.
Alarab’s headquarters are at Bahrain’s twin-towered World Trade Centre, one of the landmark buildings in Manama.
Bahrain has faced four years of instability following widespread anti-government protests in February 2011 that were dominated by the country’s Shiite majority, which seeks greater political rights from the Sunni monarchy.
Bahraini authorities, backed by security forces from neighbouring Saudi Arabia and the UAE, crushed the initial uprising, but street protests, petrol-bomb attacks and other low-level unrest continue.
The channel’s decision in late 2011 to locate its headquarters in Bahrain, rather than a larger media hub such as Dubai, was viewed as a key endorsement of the country’s prospects despite its political unrest.
Alarab’s general manager, Jamal Khashoggi, said in December that the network would “cover all views” and not shy away from sensitive topics in Bahrain.
Alarab is backed by Saudi royal family member Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, whose Kingdom Holding Co investment firm has stakes in several well-known companies, including Citigroup Inc, Apple Inc, News Corp and Twitter.
The network enters a crowded news landscape in the Arab world, with regional competitors including Qatar-based Al Jazeera, Sky News Arabia and the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya.
* Associated Press