Bahrain to host Saudi prince's news network

AP News
Posted: Dec 28, 2011 8:04 AM
Bahrain to host Saudi prince's news network

Bahrain has been picked to host the headquarters for Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal's new international Arabic news network despite months of unrest, according to the tiny Gulf kingdom's media oversight authority.

Alwaleed's channel, dubbed Alarab, will be based in the Bahraini capital Manama's new Media City office complex, Sheik Fawaz bin Mohammed Al Khalifa, a member of the Bahraini royal family and head of the country's Information Affairs Authority, said in a statement late Tuesday.

The network is expected to be launched next December with an initial staff of about 300 people, according to the Bahraini statement.

Alwaleed's office in the Saudi capital Riyadh has not itself said where the channel will be based. Officials there declined to comment Wednesday.

Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist hired to lead the network, said by email Wednesday that he expects a deal on the station to be finalized later in the day.

The channel aims to focus "on the important shifts taking place across the Arab world, with an emphasis on freedom of speech and freedom of press," Alwaleed said in September.

Alarab will compete against older pan-Arab news networks bankrolled by wealthy Gulf patrons, including Qatar's Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, which is funded by Saudi investors but based in Dubai.

Alwaleed has signed a deal with business news service Bloomberg LP to provide content for Alarab. That could potentially put it in competition with Dubai-based business news channel CNBC Arabiya as well.

The Saudi prince, through the Kingdom Holding Co. investment firm he controls, has major stakes in Citigroup Inc., Apple Inc. and Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

He and the investment company last week invested a combined $300 million into microblogging site Twitter, which played a key role in organizing protests and conveying developments during this year's Arab Spring uprisings.

The senior management of Alwaleed's Rotana entertainment television division is also expected to move to Bahrain as part of the deal, according to the IAA. Rotana runs film and music video channels across the Middle East that draw on the company's extensive Arabic film and music catalogs.

Bahrain has been shaken by 10 months of large-scale protests and clashes between security forces loyal to the Sunni monarchy and opposition groups led by the country's majority Shiites.

The kingdom's leadership is closely allied to Saudi Arabia, which looms large in Bahrain's domestic politics and provides vital tourist dollars. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states sent security forces into Bahrain at the invitation of the king to help put down protests in March.