Al Waleed Bin Talal Unveils New Channel Alarab

Article  by  Paloma HASCHKE  •  Published 11.10.2011  •  Updated 11.10.2011
Al-Waleed Bin Talal
After a year of hesitations, Saudi Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal has finally announced the launch of his private satellite channel, Alarab. Previously announced for 2011, it is now planned to go on the air in December 2012.
On September 13, 2011, after a year of suspense, Prince al Waleed Bin Talal has finally revealed the name of his private satellite news channel: Alarab. During the official presentation, Al Waleed Bin Talal said the channel’s editorial line will be inspired by the recent political events that have transformed the region, with particular attention to be paid to freedom of speech. He added that Alarab will cover political, economic and social issues related to Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Arab world. However he insisted on the fact that the channel will not receive any instructions from the Saudi Ministry of Information. To prove his commitment, he has also announced that he will fund the channel for the next ten years using his own private fortune.

Al-Waleed Bin Talal revealing the name of its new channel.
Jamal Khashoggi, a controversial Saudi journalist, has been chosen as future director of Alarab. Former Al Watan newspaper head, he is known among Arab journalists for his progressive views denouncing the oppressive and contradictory features of Saudi Islam, particularly against women. He resigned in 2010 while abroad, following the publication of an article criticizing Saudi religious conservatives. Although he provided personal motivations to justify his decision, it seems that political and religious pressures were most likely decisive in this sudden move.
Like the majority of the region’s media holdings, Alarab mainly intends to target the Saudi audience – the most important and lucrative share of the Arab market – but will be based outside the kingdom, as its laws do not allow independent news channels to exist within its borders. Alarab thus has the ambitious goal of carving out a niche on the regional media landscape between Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, the two giants that today dominate a market of nearly 300 millions viewers. On Twitter, answering a question on the channel’s editorial position, Jama Khashoggi stated, “Alarab will be to the left of Al Arabiya and to the right of Al Jazeera.”

Jamal Khashoggi, the future director of Alarab
However, the channel’s main asset in entering an already-saturated market is its partnership with the U.S. financial and economic news channel Bloomberg. “Our alliance with Bloomberg and its credible source of financial and economic data, together with its extensive media experience, will provide the Alarab news channel with a strong and comprehensive economic platform to accurately cover Saudi Arabia, and the rest of the Arab world,” said Al Waleed Bin Talal in a statement. The American channel will provide five hours of daily programs along with analysis and expertise.

Bloomberg TV, U.S. economic and financial non-stop information's channel 

Beyond financial bulletins, Bloomberg will also produce daily analyses of MENA markets, reports on Arab business leaders from Saudi Arabia, the Gulf and the rest of the region, and a weekly roundup on global financial news. All those programs will be subtitled in Arabic. Alarab will thus benefit from its U.S. partner’s extensive data network and its 2,300 journalists working in 146 bureaus throughout 72 countries. Bloomberg will gain visibility in a market where viewers are eager to access financial and economic news in Arabic on their own region.
Andy Lack, CEO of Bloomberg LP group, insisted on the fact that Alarab editorial independence was a prerequisite for Bloomberg to accept the deal. "This channel is going to come with an independent spirit and an independent view that we at Bloomberg support very strongly [] We wouldn't have been engaged in this effort if in fact the effort wasn't driven by this fair, independent and balanced approach."
But the announcement of such a partnership is something of a surprise in the industry. Indeed, last year, Al Waleed Bin Talal was expected to launch Alarab (still unnamed at the time) with News Corp., and more particularly, with Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News Network. Jamal Khashoggi had already been appointed to head the channel designed to compete with Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya on the pan-Arab news channel market. Still, in the official statement issued last week, no mention was made regarding such a partnership with the Murdoch family. It was simply stated that Alarab will be an independent venture from the Kingdom Holding Company and Rotana, two media groups belonging to Al Waleed Bin Talal.
However, the Prince is one of News Corp.’s largest shareholders and an important associate of the Fox Network, given that he has brought the channels Fox Movies and Fox Series across the MENA region via his own media and satellite empire, Rotana. The Murdoch family has also acquired an almost 15% share in Rotana, the world's largest producer of Arabic music and a major distributor of Arabic-language series and movies. Moreover, a few months ago, during the News Of the World scandal, Al Waleed Bin Talal publicly voiced his support for Rupert Murdoch.

Distribution of Fox Movies channel in Middle East via Rotana

But the most surprising fact is that next spring, the BSkyB group (British Sky Broadcasting group, a member of the Sky News Network and thus of News Corp.) is planning to launch  Sky News Arabia, an Arabic news channel in partnership with Abu Dhabi Media Investment Corp. The main mystery is why Al Waleed Bin Talal, who is linked to News Corp. and is thus also part of the Sky News Arabia venture, was not chosen as a direct partner and has decided to launch a similar project on his own.

Photos credits :
- Photo of Al-Waleed Bin Talal in 2009, by Presidency Maldives / Flickr ;
- Picture taken from the show « Gulf Talks » on the channel Al Hurra with Jamal Khashoggi as a guest;
- Picture taken from YouTube's Bloomberg channel;
- Map available on Fox International.
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