x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Closed Saudi TV channel a 'unity threat'

The information ministry says Al Saha promoted tribal affiliations ahead of national ones with SMS insults displayed on its ticker.

JEDDAH // Saudi authorities have closed down the Riyadh office of a television channel because it promotes tribal loyalties and thus poses a threat to the unity of the country's tribal-based society, officials said. The Riyadh office of the Al Saha channel, popular among Bedouins for content that includes camel shows and poetry, was closed down after the ministry of information and culture received numerous complaints from the public who felt the channel promoted tribal rather than national affiliation, the Al Riyadh newspaper reported on Wednesday.

The report quoted Abdul Rahman al Haza'a, the deputy minister for internal information at the ministry of information and culture, who said there had also been complaints over the nature of exchanges among viewers on the SMS message bar at the bottom of the screen, in which people insulted one another's tribes. Mr al Haza'a told the paper that another reason the channel was closed was because it had not obtained a licence from the ministry of information and culture.

"The closure of Al Saha is a warning to all folk and popular channels that increase tribal affiliation and discrimination in Saudi society," he told the paper. The channel has yet to respond to the closure. This is the second time in less than a year that the ministry has closed down the office of a television channel after the public complained. In August last year, the ministry closed the Saudi offices of the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation, which is controlled by the Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, after a number of citizens sued the channel for airing an episode of a programme, Bold Red Line, in which a Saudi man boasted of his sexual exploits with Saudi women.

"If we responded to the people's claims every time they complain against a channel, we will end up with half of the channels that we watch today," said Saud Kateb, professor of media at King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah. "Closing down the channel will increase its popularity among its viewers. So, instead of banning or closing it, the ministry should have punished the owner through other means."

Humoud al Barraq, a Saudi Bedouin who works at a large state-owned corporation, said he agrees with the ministry's move to close Al Saha, even though he loves the channel. "Even my mother loves it because of the camel shows that it brings, but when you see two Saudis insulting each other's tribes at the SMS ticker at the bottom of the screen, you will feel that we are moving backward as a society," Mr al Barraq said.