The Slatest

New Middle East News Network Launches Vowing Free Speech, Gets Shut Down After One Day

Alarab studio in Manama.

Mohammed Al-Shaikh/AFP/Getty Images

A new pan-Arab news channel, Alarab, launched on Sunday with deep pockets and high journalistic hopes. The 24-hour news network, backed by Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, appeared well equipped to make a mark. Along with deep pockets, and permission to broadcast from Bahrain, the network sprang to life on Sunday committed to being an independent arbiter of the news, and not simply a mouthpiece for the regimes in the region. “We are going to be neutral; we are not going to take sides,” Alarab general manager, Jamal Khashoggi, told the New York Times before the network’s launch. “We are going to bring in all sides in any conflict because right now we have a conflict in almost every Arab country.”

On Sunday, the network went live from its studios in Bahrain with an interview from one of the country’s top opposition leaders who, like opposition leaders generally do, criticized the government. On Monday, the Bahrain government shut the station down. “Progamming at Al-Arab satellite channel has been temporarily suspended for administrative and technical purposes,” Bahrain’s information ministry said in a statement. “The Information Affairs Authority continues to work alongside Al-Arab’s management team in order to swiftly resolve the matter, which is expected to see broadcasting resume shortly.”

Here’s more on the interview, and closure, from the Financial Times:

The channel on Sunday carried an interview with Khalil al-Marzooq, a senior official of Bahrain’s main opposition group, about Bahrain’s decision to strip 72 nationals of their nationality. Alarab later interviewed the information minister, Isa Abdulrahman, on the same subject. One person aware of the matter said information ministry staff came to the broadcaster’s studios in the early hours of Monday morning to close down the operation. On Sunday, pro-government daily Akhbar al-Khaleej reported that the channel had been suspended for not being committed to Gulf norms, including “media neutrality and lacking prejudice to whatever may negatively impact the spirit of Gulf unity.” A person close to the government said the decision to pull the channel had nothing to do with the al-Marzouq interview.

“The truncated debut of Al Arab’s broadcast is the most recent collision of the efforts by the Arab monarchies of the Persian Gulf to portray themselves as open to the outside world while drastically limiting freedom of speech and political rights at home,” the New York Times reports. “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,” according to the Associated Press.