EXCLUSIVE– Deadline understands that Saudi Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal is looking to re-launch his shuttered Al Arab TV channel in defiance of Bahraini and Saudi officials who shuttered the channel after only one day on air. Sources tell Deadline that the billionaire super investor has tasked execs within his group to find a new location to house the ill-fated news channel after it was shut permanently by Bahraini authorities Feb 1.
One of the sites being considered is the IMG Studios in London, which also houses Qatar-owned channel Al Arab Al Jadeed. Al Waleed is arguably Saudi Arabia’s most prominent businessman, whose holding company Kingdom has interests spanning media, real estate and banking. Al Waleed has stakes in Citigroup, Twitter and 21st Century Fox.
The shuttering of Al Arab was shocking, even by regional standards, and particularly given Al Waleed’s political standing. It comes as little surprise to see the mogul looking to fight back. The original decision to shut the channel down was blamed- officially at least- on it failing “to match the standards of regional and international practice agreements, to take account of efforts aimed at stemming the tide of extremism and terrorism throughout the region and the wider world.”
In reality, many believe the decision was down to the channel broadcasting an interview with the Bahraini opposition activist Khalil al-Marzooq in which he discussed the Bahraini government’s decision to revoke — without prior notice or legal process — the citizenship of 72 people. Authorities in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are particularly sensitive over the opposition movement and the potential challenge they pose to the ruling family. In 2011, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states sent armed forces into Bahrain to crush protests in the country led by the Shia majority.
There was particular irony in the Bahraini authorities’ decision: The Prince chose to base his channel there in the first place on the assurance of editorial independence and generous financial subsidies.
The Prince has precedence in launching an Arab TV company out of Europe. He launched, along with Sheikh Saleh Kamel, the pay platform ART out of Italy in the mid-90’s before selling his stake and going on to launch his own fully controlled media group Rotana. Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox maintains a 19% stake in Rotana.