Pan-Arab News Channel Ceases Broadcast After Bahraini Opposition Figure Interview

Al-Akhbar is currently going through a transitional phase whereby the English website is available for Archival purposes only. All new content will be published in Arabic on the main website (www.al-akhbar.com).

Al-Akhbar Management

Published Monday, February 2, 2015

Programing at a Pan-Arab news channel owned by Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal was unavailable on Monday, hours after its first transmission from Bahrain, following an interview with a prominent Bahraini opposition figure.

The satellite feed of Al-Arab news channel showed only promotional material, and an Al-Arab executive declined to comment.

The channel later said on its Twitter account that broadcasting has "stopped for technical and administrative reasons and that it will be back soon."

The head of media at Bahrain's information ministry, Yousef Mohammed, said "cooperation with Al-Arab's administration is ongoing, in order to resume its broadcasts and complete necessary measures as soon as possible."

His statement, carried by the official Bahrain news agency (BNA), did not elaborate on the causes of the interruption.

The channel took to the air at 12:00 pm (GMT+2) on Sunday.

One of its first segments included an opponent of Bahrain's rulers, sparking criticism in pro-government Bahraini daily Akhbar al-Khaleej.

The newspaper said it learnt that Al-Arab was stopped for "not adhering to the norms prevalent in Gulf countries."

In a column in the same newspaper, editor-in-chief Anwar Abdulrahman asked: "Is Al-Arab really Arab?" He condemned the channel for hosting prominent opposition figure and former member of parliament Khalil al-Marzouq, who he said is "radical to the core."

"Resorting to muscle flexing in news coverage, with the hope of proving that you are an independent channel, is not going to work," he wrote.

Marzouq was deputy speaker of Bahrain's 40-member parliament before its 18 al-Wefaq members walked out in February 2011 in protest at violence against demonstrators.

In September 2013, Marzouq was arrested for criticizing the government. Human rights group urged the Bahraini authorities to release him, as Amnesty designated him a “prisoner of conscience.”

Prosecutors accused Marzouq of promoting terrorist acts and being affiliated with the secular, left-wing February 14 Revolution Youth Coalition, which Bahraini authorities have branded as a terrorist group.

He was released nine months later on June 25, 2014.

The tiny but strategic Gulf nation has been rocked by unrest since a 2011 uprising led by its majority demanding a constitutional monarchy and more representative government.

The February 14 Revolution Youth Coalition is an active revolutionary faction which was leading daily protests and sit-ins after the eviction from Pearl Roundabout in March 2011, where Saudi backed troops violently dispersed demonstrators who have been camping on site for a month.

Saudi-led Gulf troops deployed in Bahrain on the eve of the March 2011 crackdown, manning key positions while its own security forces carried out the crackdown.

The Pearl Square roundabout and its central monument, which were a symbol of the uprising, were later razed and the site remains heavily restricted.

At least 93 people are estimated to have been killed and hundreds have been arrested and tried since peaceful protests erupted.

Political activists have been prosecuted by Bahraini authorities for attempting to voice out and expose gross human rights violations by the al-Khalifa ruling family, which has been in power for over 200 years.

Al-Arab entered a crowded field that includes the first regional broadcaster, 19-year-old Al-Jazeera which is subsidized by Qatar.

It is also a rival for Dubai-based Al-Arabiya, established in 2003 and owned by Saudi Sheikh Waleed al-Ibrahim.

Critics have accused the established broadcasters of reflecting their owners' political views, especially during the 2011 uprisings against authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and North Africa.

Both long-running channels deny any slant in their reporting.

Meanwhile, Al-Arab had vowed to be even-handed in its coverage.

"We are not going to take sides," Jamal Khashoggi, the general manager, told AFP in an interview before the launch.

"I think a news channel should not have a political agenda... We should just be a news channel that provides accurate, objective information," he added.

Because Saudi Arabia does not allow "independent" channels, Al-Arab had to find an alternative location "so Bahrain is appropriate," he said.

"Our channel in Bahrain is the first independent channel to be launched" in the island state, which is linked to its ally Saudi Arabia by a causeway.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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