Whys and Wherefores of Satellite Channel Ownership
From Satellite Relams: Transnational Television, Globalization and the Middle East
Arjun Appadurai used the term 'deterritorialization' to signify disjunctures between state borders and cultural communities like those identified in Chapter 1. He used the word to describe, among other things, the displacement of people, the creation of 'invented homelands' and the conduct of homeland politics among emigrant groups, in ways that certain media interests may reinforce or magnify.1 In Appadurai's 1990 model of global cultural flow, people, machinery, money, images and ideas follow dissimilar paths around the globe, which makes the cultural flows associated with deterritorialization disjunctive and unpre-dictable.2 The model is a generalized one. Appadurai identifies the actors in terms of their nationality or ethnicity, but otherwise they remain anonymous.
It is easy to see why, in some accounts of cultural globalization, individuals remain backstage. The task of isolating precisely who plays what role would seem to serve little purpose if globalization is perceived to be an unstoppable and irreversible process. Even if the purpose is clear, the task of identification is complicated by the rise of a multitude of non-state actors, from transnational corporations to international bureaucracies, from powerful families to non-governmental organizations. Non-state actors' expanding influence invalidates a state-centred analysis of events but provides no obvious alternative focus. Indeed, non-state actors' influence is sometimes so pervasive that lines between the state and private sectors are blurred, while both sectors may be permeable to outside forces of both the state and non-state kind.3 When the focus of enquiry is satellite television, where both public and private broadcasters deliberately cross state borders, the aim of tracking all significant transnational interventions is especially hard to meet.
Susan Strange acknowledged the analytical difficulties that follow from recognizing that politics involves not just states but all sources of authority.4 She recognized the problem of where to draw sectoral boundaries and understood the risk of losing sight of market-authority dynamics. Her solution was to start out with the questions: 'who is exercising authority ... with what purpose, by what means and with what consequences'.5 This, she wrote, would mean untangling a complex web of overlapping and conflicting authority, which in turn would probably reveal a pattern of 'interlocking, interacting bargains'.6 Strange's self-styled 'new realist' approach thus entails more than simply looking elsewhere than the state for sources of authority. It also necessitates deconstructing the notion of state control. For one thing, statehood may mean different things at different points in history.7 For another, the state itself is not a unitary phenomenon but a cluster of institutions or 'institutionalized nexus of central power'.8 As Philip Abrams insisted, what is to be grasped in studying a state is the state-system or state-idea, the idea that attributes 'unity, morality and independence' to the workings of government that are in practice 'disunited, amoral and dependent'. It is the concrete practice of government going on behind the state mask that has to be uncovered by research.9 To this end the state, instead of being seen as a unit or entity, may be viewed as an arena where forces compete.
Appadurai's generalized insights about deterritorialization, combined with Strange's and Abrams' advice about the specifics of power structures, make it possible to chart a course for closer scrutiny of the 1990s proliferation of Middle East satellite channels. This chapter examines who exactly was making satellite television policy at this stage. It locates the sources of finance they relied on and posits some unofficial reasons as to why the new broadcasting ventures were set up. Nine separate broadcasting operations are analysed in five groups. The first is Egyptian. It consists of the Egyptian Space Channel and Nile TV as well as the digital Nile Thematic Channels that came into being later on the Egyptian satellite, Nilesat. The second group comprises the three Saudi-owned companies (MBC, ART and Orbit). In the third and fourth are the two Lebanese operators, Future TV and LBC-Sat, and the two news and current affairs channels, Al-Jazeera and ANN. The survey ends by recalling the rise, fall and reincarnation of the expatriate Kurdish station, MED TV, and considering what has been revealed by a 'who, why, how?' account of channel ownership and control.
An Egyptian video producer once said of government control over the Egyptian Radio and Television Union (ERTU) that, clearly, someone in government thinks whoever runs the ERTU runs Egypt.11 Using the same analogy, there seems to have been a school of thought claiming that whoever runs the ERTU's satellite channels has a say in the running of Arab politics. The ERTU is, officially, owned by the Egyptian public through the state. In practice, because of the way it is regulated, its policies are determined by the head of state through the minister of information. Law No 13 of 1979 and Law No 223 of 1989 gave the ERTU a monopoly over broadcasting in Egypt, and challenges to this monopoly during the 1990s were brushed aside.12 The ERTU executive director reports to the minister of information, who is not an elected member of parliament but a presidential appointee.
Egyptian presidents have traditionally played a pivotal and prolonged role in national policy-making, including media policy. When Hosni Mubarak took power in 1981, he was only the fourth president to hold office since the monarchy was overthrown in 1952. The first, Mohammed Neguib, was replaced in 1954 by Gamal Abdel-Nasser, who nationalized the press as well as the Suez Canal. Nasser promoted a populist brand of Arab nationalism, opened Egypt to the Soviet Union and died of illness in 1970 after presiding over the country's defeat and loss of territory in the 1967 'Six-Day War' with Israel. He was succeeded by his vice-president, Anwar al-Sadat, who terminated the Soviet role in Egypt as abruptly as Nasser had started it. Sadat was assassinated by Islamist militants in 1981 after signing a peace treaty with Israel in 1979. Mubarak became president, having been vice-president to Sadat. Under Egypt's constitution, the president is nominated by the People's Assembly and the nomination then goes to a plebiscite. Although aged 71 at the time, Mubarak stood unopposed for a fourth six-year term of office in September 1999 and was returned with 94 per cent of the vote.13 The People's Assembly is overwhelmingly dominated by the president's own political organization, the National Democratic Party, which increased its share of seats during the 1990s, obtaining 94 per cent in 1995.14 Throughout the decade Mubarak chose to leave the post of vice-president empty, apparently to avoid cultivating any potential competitor to himself.
The constitution empowers the president to initiate and veto legislation and to rule by decree. Additional powers are conferred by the State of Emergency Law, which has been in force for most of the past three decades and was renewed by parliament yet again in February 2000. Key appointments are also a presidential preserve. The president selects the prime minister and the rest of the cabinet as well as the 26 provincial governors, all of whom have ministerial rank. He appoints the heads of the armed forces and security and the main national religious institutions, top university personnel and editors-in-chief of government-owned
The Ministry of Information has control over the government-owned press as well as the monopoly broadcaster, the ERTU. The minister is, ex officio, chair of the ERTU Board of Trustees (Majlis al-Umana), issuing political 'guidance' on an annual basis.17 As of 2000, no ERTU director had ever enjoyed the same long and entrenched tenure as Sharif, since the post had changed hands on average around every five years. Meanwhile many of the 36 trustees on the ERTU board owe their own appointments to the presidential chain of command, since they represent ministries, universities and departments within the ERTU. The Board of
As recounted in Chapter 1, the trigger for the launch of the Egyptian Space Channel on 12 December 1990, was the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on 2 August of that year. The channel that later came to be known as ESC 1 was started primarily as a means of feeding Egyptian soldiers an alternative media diet to the one offered by Iraq. Its launch involved an agreement between the ERTU and the secretariat of the Saudi-based and
Importantly, however, the ERTU was able to respond so swiftly because the idea of creating an Egyptian satellite channel predated the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The idea was aimed at reaching remote areas of Egypt that were being settled but were beyond the reach of a wireless cable network being developed at the end of the 1980s.21 For a country like Egypt, with a film industry that had been developing since the 1930s and internal and external broadcasting services developed assiduously since the 1950s, the initiation of satellite broadcasts fitted an established pattern. It required no major innovation in terms of media production or new departure in terms of government policy, since Egyptian radio and television had long been used as an arm of government, and funds had always been made available for expansion. Ever since Egypt joined
During the 1980s, while Egypt was boycotted by other Arab states because of its 1979 peace treaty with Israel, attention focused on domestic television. Between 1985 and 1990 the ERTU increased its terrestrial channels from two to five, adding a further three channels later, in 1994.24 It was during the boycott, with Egypt excluded from Arabsat, that the idea of launching a separate Egyptian broadcasting satellite was conceived, though not carried out. When the boycott ended, the ERTU's political managers were poised to expand again into Arab markets. Safwat al-Sharif told the press in 1989 that Egypt now had a good opportunity to consolidate its position as a pioneer of television programming in the region. In order to benefit from this opportunity, he said, Egyptian output had to deal with Arab problems; it should not be 'limited to the restricted national context'.25
In this way it seems that the ending of the boycott, followed so soon by Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, caused a pan-Arab approach to take precedence over the early objective of broadcasting by satellite to remote parts of Egypt. Arab governments' receptiveness reinforced this shift. The governments of Kuwait and Bahrain liked the Egyptian Space Channel well enough to arrange for it to be distributed terrestrially through their national television networks.26 Thereafter the process of spreading the signal proceeded through a symbiotic combination of the Egyptian state authorities making arrangements with foreign satellite and cable operators and viewers on the ground taking the necessary steps to gain access. For about nine months after its launch ESC remained the only regular Arabic-language satellite service available to Saudis seeking alternatives to monotonous and uninformative local programming. It was also regarded as an attractive alternative to French satellite channels and lacklustre local channels by viewers in Algeria and Morocco who hankered after the Arabic music and drama presented on ESC. Less than eight years after the channel's creation, its head, Sana Mansour, felt able to declare that '200 million people in the Middle East and North Africa' look on ESC, as 'their own channel'.27
The size and nature of this audience influenced programming decisions. In 1992, as armed extremists reacted to the cancellation of elections in Algeria with violence perpetrated in the name of militant Islam, and Islamist militants launched a wave of attacks in Egypt, Sharif charged Egyptian satellite television with the task of 'safeguarding Arab and Egyptian national security'.28 After surviving an assassination attempt in 1993, he became even more convinced of the need for 'anti-terrorist' television. The next few years saw Egyptian television dramatists dragooned into scripting heavily didactic serials about brainwashed
The launch of Saudi-backed satellite channels, notably MBC and ART, in the early 1990s, added a new dimension to the rationale for Egyptian satellite broadcasting and provided another incentive for its expansion. Satellite rivalry allowed the government in Cairo to respond to the anomalous mixture of complementarity and mistrust characterizing the multidimensional Egyptian-Saudi relationship. Given Egypt's ten-year exclusion from Arab organizations during the 1980s, its subsequent major contribution to the US-led coalition to protect Kuwait and Saudi Arabia against Iraq evoked mixed responses within Egypt itself. Egyptian soldiers in the Gulf in 1991 found themselves fighting to defend people who had gained an unenviable reputation for their oppressive treatment of expatriate Egyptian workers,32 their often ostentatious and arrogant conduct in Cairo,33 and their inability to defend themselves. The Gulf war split the Arab world more deeply than any previous event, with the governments of Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait on one side, opposed by Iraq on the other, flanked by the Palestinians, Jordanians, Yemenis and Tunisians, who either supported Saddam Hussein's defiance or declined to condemn it. This rift fatally undermined the Arab nationalist cause, leaving the Egyptian government and its regional counterparts in need of some additional, or alternative, legitimizing and unifying ideology.
While some policy considerations pulled the Egyptian and Saudi governments in similar directions, others pushed them apart. For example, as major Arab allies of the USA, the two countries found
With elements of the Saudi satellite media enforcing suffocating constraints like these, ERTU department heads with a say in the spread of Egyptian television by satellite could take credit, tacitly, for resisting a Saudi cultural invasion as well as cultural invasion from the West. But the twin aims of countering Saudi influence and boosting Egyptian influence across the Arab world were not the only reasons for the
The investment stakes in the tourism industry in Egypt are high. Despite periodic scares caused by attacks on tourists, the country's popularity as a holiday destination had increased to the point where, in the year to end-June 1997, before the Luxor massacre of November 1997 caused temporary mass cancellations of tour bookings, a record 4 million tourists visited Egypt, spending some $3.7 billion. Of this total an estimated 56 percent came from Western Europe, encouraging the government to talk of quadrupling the annual number of tourists over the next 20 years.40 Given the need to play up Egypt's attractions as a tourist destination to the widest possible audience, ministers felt a corresponding need to play down internal divisions. With the president and information minister refusing to countenance the possibility of diversifying broadcasting capacity through even partial privatization of government broadcasting assets, the ERTU took the initiative of setting up Nile TV, the Arab world's first satellite channel to be broadcast in English and French. Launched from within the same department responsible for ESC, Nile TV started experimentally in October 1993, got under way officially for four hours daily in May 1994 and raised its output to 12 hours daily by 1997. Its official purpose was to 'embody Egypt's image' to foreigners and 'develop relations with the people of countries it addresses in their own tongues'.41
Nearly every satellite that carried ESC carried Nile TV too. In 1994 Egypt's satellite programming reached the USA via the AlphaStar digital satellite system.42 In 1995, with the first generation of Arabsat craft failing and the second generation not yet launched, Intelsat 702 was chosen as an interim means of sending a stronger signal to the Middle East.43 The lease of a C-band transponder on AsiaSat 2 followed in 1996, making the ERTU Asiasat's first Middle East customer44 and taking ESC to East and South-East Asia and Australia. In July 1997 ESC joined several other publicly owned channels to become part of a digital package broadcast via Astra to France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and Spain.45 Meanwhile arrangements were made for ESC and Nile TV to be broadcast by various means, including satellite feeds and retransmission, to Azerbaijan,46 Uganda and Zambia.47 These agreements involved the supply by Egypt of equipment and technical help. In 1997, 15 African states were said to have agreed to receive ESC and Nile TV and retransmit these channels on their national nerworks.48
The difficulty of sending a good signal from Arabsat in the mid-1990s gave Egypt another good reason to think about launching its own telecommunications satellite. According to Amin Bassiouny, chairman and chief executive officer of the Egyptian Satellite Company (Nilesat), the Egyptian government first dreamed up this project when Egypt was expelled from the Arab League in 1979. Excluded from Arabsat and believing that a time might come when Egypt would need a satellite of its own, the government in Cairo notified the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) of its intention to use the geostationary orbital slot it had been allocated at 7 degrees W.49 The idea was raised again in 1985, when the first Arabsat craft was launched, but no further steps had been taken by the time Egypt's membership of Arabsat and other pan-Arab bodies was resumed at the end of the 1980s. However, once the Egyptian Space Channel had started on Arabsat in December 1990, reasons began to accumulate for seeking an alternative satellite. The signal from both Arabsat 1A and 1B deteriorated during the early 1990s, prompting the ERTU to transfer its satellite channel to Arabsat 1C. In February 1992,
By 1995 the government also wanted more satellite capacity to extend the national television network to developing areas in remote parts of Egypt, including new oil and gas discoveries and land reclamation projects; some 25 places had been identified that were beyond the reach of terrestrial broadcasting.54 That Nilesat was to be used solely for broadcasting purposes was evident when the contract with Matra Marconi was signed for Egypt by Amin Bassiouny, who was then director of the ERTU Board of Trustees.55 It was Safwat al-Sharif, not the transport and communications minister, Suleiman Merwalli, who attended the signing ceremony, leaving no doubt that this was a Ministry of Information project. Sharif presented Nilesat as a money-spinner, predicting that it would provide annual revenue of $50 million over its 15-year lifespan.56 This was despite the fact that the ERTU was intending to keep two of the first satellite's 12 transponders. Two years later, Hamdi Abdel-Halim, head of transmission projects at the ERTU, confirmed the financial calculations. He described Nilesat as 'an economic project' which would bring in enough money to repay the initial $200 million government investment to the Treasury in 'about four years'.57 By then, 1997, the plan to increase Egypt's satellite television output still further, by broadcasting eight digital thematic channels from Nilesat, had been conceived.58
As happens with satellites, however, not everything went according to plan. October 1997, the date originally set for Nilesat to go into operation, came and went, as did the second target date of January 1998, until the satellite was successfully launched at the end of April 1998. Matra Marconi reportedly compensated Egypt for the delay by adding enough fuel to extend the satellite's lifespan from 12 to 14 years.59 But, as the launch date approached, the number of transponders set aside for the ERTU doubled from two to four and the early emphasis on revenue receded, reflecting changes in the balance between supply and demand in satellite capacity serving the Middle East. In contrast to earlier expectations that transponder leases would bring in $50 million a year, the market in 1998 was such that each of Nilesat's 12 transponders were offered for lease at $3 million per year, while the annual rate for a single slot on a shared transponder was $0.5 million.60 Addressing a press conference soon after the Nilesat 101 launch, Sharif confirmed that the project had cost $158 million and told reporters that the allocation of such a sum was 'not a luxury but a necessity'. He said that Egypt faced 'fierce competition in the fields of information and communication' and that Nilesat was needed to keep up with media technology.61
The information minister's commitment to Nilesat, despite the expense, re-emerged in May 1998 when he confidently predicted that Nilesat 102, costing an additional $140 million, would be launched to join Nilesat 1O1 within a year.62 He repeated the announcement six months later.63 In fact, Nilesat 102 was originally intended as a back-up satellite. The contract for Nilesat 101 included 10 per cent of the cost of manufacturing Nilesat 102, which was to be kept on the ground pending clearer indications as to future market trends.64 In theory, decisions about its deployment were up to the Egyptian Satellite Company (Nilesat), formed in July 1996. In theory also, the ERTU was not the sole owner of Nilesat, holding only 40 per cent of the company alongside the Egyptian Company for Investment Projects, the Arab Organization for Industrialization and two state-owned banks. In practice, however, because of the state's overall majority share in the project and the ERTU-government chain of command, it seems decisions about Nilesat did
Suspicions about whether television content would be sufficient to fill the new capacity led some people to infer that the Nile Thematic Channels, launched exclusively on Nilesat 101, were dreamed up to
The fact that the Nile Thematic Channels have their own department in the ERTU, separate from the Satellite Department that runs ESC and Nile 1V, gives some indication that their profitability is not a primary consideration. The same assumption can be drawn from the overall organization of the nine departments of the vast ERTU, which occupies a 27-story building in central Cairo and employs a staff of around 18,000 people full-time and possibly 33,000 in total. While the Engineering Sector deals with satellite operators, the General Secretariat takes responsibility for ratings research, which it conducts only inside Egypt. The Financial and Economic Sector handles advertising sales and income. In this way the satellite channel managers are not directly
The limited information available for advertising sales suggests that, despite the wide reach of the ESC and Nile TV signals, their advertising income is low compared to other satellite channels. Comparative figures for advertising revenue produced by the Pan-Arab Research Centre (PARC), which is virtually the only organization to collate this data on behalf of advertising agencies, show that in 1998 the Egyptian satellite channels gained less than $27 million, or less than 8 per cent of the combined advertising income of the nine leading Arab satellite channels. Despite an absolute increase to an estimated $36 million in 1999, the relative position vis-a-vis other channels remained the same.69 Moreover, since that figure is calculated on the basis of so-called 'rate card' rather than the final discounted prices, it is likely to have been an overestimate. It can also been assumed that earnings in 1998 were higher than any previous year, since the number of advertising slots on ESC rose steadily from nine per day when ESC first started to 150-200 per day by 1998.70 The number of hours broadcast by the channel each day also increased over the same period, from 13 at the start to 24. Private advertising agencies suggested to anyone who would listen that they could have boosted ERTU revenues had they not faced daunting competition from the advertising agency attached to the government-owned Al-Ahram publishing house. Al-Ahram was reportedly able to bulk-buy daily advertising slots of 20 minutes at a time on ERTU television and offer its clients additional discounts of 20-25 per cent, while escaping the 36 per cent tax levied on private agencies' sales.71
In other words, the approach to advertising on Egypt's numerous satellite channels in the late 1990s provided yet more evidence that income from the channels themselves was not the chief motive behind
We shall open on the world from a position of confidence ... Our sea is our Arab culture. Our ship is the ship of values and ethics of our nation. Our shore is the one where the Customs, traditions, aspirations and ambitions of our peoples grew, from the ocean to the Gulf.73
The daily Al-Riyadh contained an article in November 1997 which began: 'When talk in Arab media circles turns to Arab television news, the sentence "space is Saudi" is often heard'. The author of the article went on to attribute the expression to the satellite media activities of a select and experienced 'elite' of Saudi businessmen. In doing so, he not only highlighted the remarkable concentration of satellite media in Saudi hands, but also touched on two apparently basic distinctions between the predominant Saudi approach to satellite television and that of other Arab states, especially Egypt. Unlike the Egyptian channels, all run by the
It is an important facet of the Saudi nation state that it bears the name of its ruling family, the Al Saud. Abdel-Aziz al-Saud (or Ibn Saud), who unified the Nejd and Hejaz to become the first king of Saudi Arabia in 1932, fathered 45 recorded sons by at least 22 different mothers betWeen 1900 and 1953.75 At the end of the century, up to three generations later, 25 of those sons were still living and the total number of princes was widely estimated at 3000, scores of whom held posts at all levels of government. Even after the appointment of a new Council of Ministers in 1995, the first serious shake-up of the cabinet for 20 years, the key senior ministries of defence, foreign affairs and the interior were reserved for members of the Al Saud -- a situation unchanged by the reshuffle of 1999. Whether as ministers and deputy ministers, provincial governors and deputy governors, head and deputy head of the Department of General Intelligence, head of the Youth Welfare Organization or other official institution, princes occupied the majority of influential positions. King Fahd's youngest and favourite son, Prince Abdel-Aziz,76 took up his first post as minister of state without portfolio in May 1998 and was made head of the Office of the Council of Ministers in January 2000, at the age of just 28. His brother, Mohammed bin Fahd, was meanwhile governor of the Eastern Province. Prince Bandar, son of the defence minister, Prince Sultan, was Saudi ambassador to the USA. These royal appointments are just a few examples from a very long list.
Under the 1992 Basic Law, which is effectively Saudi Arabia's written constitution, there is nothing to prevent members of the ruling family from playing as prominent a role in the media as they do in government. On the contrary, the media are viewed more or less as a tool of government and, internally, Saudi radio and television are run by the Ministry of Information. Article 39 of the Basic Law states:
Information, publication and all other media shall employ courteous language and the state's regulations, and they shall contribUte to the education of the nation and the bolstering of its unity. All acts that foster sedition or division or harm the state's security and its public relations or detract from man's dignity and rights shall be prohibited. The statutes shall define all that.77
In this situation, whether or not the ownership of a Saudi newspaper or externally based broadcasting station could be traced to King Fahd or one of the Saudi princes, the ruling family's control over the Saudi media in the 1990s was something many Saudi nationals took for granted. If a certain columnist in the widely read Al-Riyadh used his column to take the authorities to task over censorship issues, it would be equally widely supposed that he had been given the green light by the minister of the interior, Prince Nayef, to achieve some objective of the Al Saud vis-a-vis the kingdom's conservative religious establishment. If another widely read daily, Okaz, appeared to have the inside track on the border agreement with Yemen, it would be assumed their story had princely blessing. But what of the satellite media? If the media were being used internally in pursuit of the interests of specific members or branches of the royal family, would the same people or groups have a political or economic interest in exerting control through satellite television, and what constituency would these satellite channels be addressing? As the Saudi private sector expanded throughout the 1990s many companies complained, privately and anonymously, that the unwritten requirement on them to share their profits with one or more princes was tantamount to a tax. Could royal involvement in satellite television be explained as a form of tax, or were princes themselves prime movers in the creation of Saudi satellite channels?
MBC, founded in London in 1991, followed a path already established by the two Saudi-owned pan-Arab daily newspapers, Asharq al-Awsat and Al-Hayat, in being based in London and closely linked to the Al Saud. However, links to the Al Saud did not mean these ventures were based on similar objectives. Grudges exist and score-settling occurs not only among the sons of Abdel-Aziz's different wives but even among
While the financial support MBC received from King Fahd in its early years will remain a matter of conjecture, the extent of the king's logistical support is a matter of record. Despite the official ban on satellite dishes in Saudi Arabia, there was no attempt to hide MBC's large Saudi following, while the MBC-FM radio station, launched in 1994, became the only commercial radio station allowed to cover the kingdom terrestrially. Saudi Arabia's majority shareholding in Arabsat was deployed to MBC's advantage when the company was allowed to lease the powerful S-band transponder on Arabsat 1C, thereby boosting its signal and increasing its audience in the kingdom. Shaikh Walid al-Ibrahim's company SARAvision, registered in Riyadh in 1995, was
The second investor in MBC was Shaikh Saleh Kamel, a billionaire banker who started out as a contractor in Saudi Arabia in the 1970s and established the Dallah Albaraka holding company in Jeddah in 1982.
ARTs first offering, in 1994, consisted of four free-to-air channels: one general, one exclusively for sport, one for children and another showing only films. The company had acquired the rights to a sizeable library of old Egyptian films from the Egyptian Ministry of Culture, allegedly for a knockdown price of $1200 per film.81 Television programmes produced by Egyptian and Jordanian companies backed by Shaikh Saleh had also reportedly built up around 6000 hours of programming.82 In autumn 1995 ART, uplinking from near Rome, began the switch to digital transmission via PanAmSat 4 and then moved to becoming subscriber-only in the spring of 1996. Ample supplies of receiving equipment were reportedly made available on a complimentary basis to promote the ART service to potential subscribers.
Significantly, as a bouquet of encrypted digital channels carrying no news, ART avoided presenting itself as a competitor to MBC. Instead the company found itself in competition with the third Saudi-owned satellite operator to be established in the early 1990s, namely Orbit. The competition was all the more inrriguing since Orbit, like both MBC and ART, was started by members of the Al Saud. The prince behind Orbit was
This chapter began by framing three questions to be asked about each satellite venture: who was behind it, why did they get involved and by what means. So far, the investigation into the Saudi channels has confirmed the commonly held view of a ubiquitous Al Saud presence and extensive Al Saud control. But the question of motivation seems to elicit a less uniform response. Acknowledging the unprecedented concentration of media ownership in the hands of members of thc Saudi ruling family is not the same as saying the king and princes acted in concert. It is dearly important that each of the three groups of investors was able to draw on existing political and economic power to establish a major media operation. In pursuit of their objectives, all three groups left the confines of the kingdom, bearing testimony to the fact that harsh censorship laws and the self-appointed but government-financed religious police (the feared mutawwaeen) had created an environment intolerant of public entertainment or media debate. They did so using the billions of dollars at the disposal of ruling family members and their business partners. Thirdly, they did so in spite of the official ban on satellite
Media censorship inside Saudi Arabia has long imposed a straitjacket crafted by the joint efforts of senior, and now elderly, princes and their highly conservative allies in the religious establishment. The tighter the constraints, the greater the turmoil likely to result from relaxing them. Yet the pressure for relaxation is intensified by the weight of the kingdom's population of young people and is recognized at various levels of government. Today, more than two-thirds of Saudis are aged under 40, and a large number of them question the extent and purpose of censor-ship.86 The authorities' censorship dilemma was thrown into sharp relief when Iraq invaded Kuwait and the official Saudi broadcast media remained silent on the event for the next three days. CNN not only filled the breach in terms of coverage but soon gained a reputation for its style, based not on wooden editorializing but on what had all the appearance of instant, live news with minimum editing. The presentation of what one specialist describes as 'pure, untainted, spontaneous' news87 marked a turning point for Gulf viewers. The message was not lost on MBC. 'We want CNN in Arabic' was the phrase one staff member remembers hearing when he was recruited.88
Hundreds of millions of dollars went into the project to emulate CNN. MBC started with $300 million in working capital and an annual budget of $60 million.89 It spent at least $12 million on new headquarters in the London district of Battersea, which were opened by John Major, then British prime minister, in a ceremony attended by the Saudi information minister, Ali al-Shaer, in March 1995. Its staff expanded to well over 300. By 1997 the favoured 'guesstimate' for its annual outgoings was in the region of $100 million. The severe financial cuts that followed in 1998 were widely interpreted to reflect Shaikh Walid's understanding that, given King Fahd's advanced age and failing health, his subventions to MBC would not continue indefinitely. These cuts, including around 120 redundancies, were accompanied by a change in management and editorial direction that shifted the emphasis from news to entertainment. The appointment of Ian Ritchie to the post of managing director in April 1998, replacing Hala Omran of Bahrain, set in train a process of putting control over running the station increasingly in the hands of men with experience of commercial media in Britain. Ritchie, whose background was in the UK's national Channel 5 and in regional television, soon acquired the tide of MBC chief executive officer. He was joined in January 1999 by Philip O'Hara of Mirror Group Newspapers, who took over as sales and marketing director of MBC and was appointed six weeks later as chief executive officer of ARA Media
MBC's new evening schedules for autumn 1998 demonstrated a clear decision to compete head-on with the Lebanese satellite channels. This was evident in an upgrading of entertainment, in the form of films, quizzes and gameshows, and a downgrading of news, reflected in a move to shorten the late evening news and screen it at a later time. A year later Ritchie intimated in a press interview that Walid al-Ibrahim would have no objection to benefiting from the 'synergy' that might be derived from investment by a Western multinational media corporation.92 Saudi Research and Marketing, the group behind Asharq al-Awsat, was seen by some as a natural partner for MBC but declined to become involved.
Like MBC, ART was an expensive operation from the outset, especially given Saleh Kamel's heavy investment in a brand new high-tech production and transmission complex at Avezzano, south of Rome. But
Prince Alwaleed's motives in absorbing such losses could only be gleaned from his wider preoccupation with the media business as a 'powerful investment tool'. Describing himself as 'proud to be a member of the ruling family of Saudi Arabia', he told one interviewer that he was deeply involved in media not only as an investor but as an enthusiast. 'Media', he said, 'helps me pave the way for new investments and strengthens existing ones.' The prince linked ART's wide reach with his own personal feeling of being at home in 'Riyadh, Paris, Cape Town, New York, Tokyo or any other city on earth'. He continued:
I also believe that this feeling stems from the fact that the telecommunications revolution has put the world at one's fingertips. I, for instance, adore the fact that ART is present wherever I go, given that I travel extensively and my work has necessitated that I travel to every continent. And since ART channels cover the earth, I always feel a little closer to home.95
Shaikh Saleh regularly hinted in speeches and media interviews that ART's content mattered more to him than the money it cost to produce. It was aimed, he told his associates, at a conservative but silent majority of Muslims who were neither secularists nor so-called 'Islamic fundamentalists'.96 The emphasis in programming was on what Shaikh Saleh described as Islamic values and presenting Islam 'as it should be presented to the rest of the world'. 'Someone like me', he told an interviewer in 1997, '[who is] not completely to the left or the right - and there are millions like me - wanted to present a more tolerant, middle-of-the-road message to the Arab and other peoples of the world.'97 This focus on Islam was enshrined in a new ART channel launched in 1998 under the name lqra (Read), to teach the Quran. In all ART channels, however, editorial staff freely admitted to a high degree of self-censorship.98 As already noted in reference to Egypt, producers commissioned by ART were required to conform to guidelines very similar to those issued by Saudi Arabia's domestic terrestrial television in 1982. Shaikh Saleh's associates say he made a deliberate business decision to reject the idea of producing news bulletins or a news channel, calculating that it would either damage his relations with Arab governments in the many countries where Dallah Albaraka has interests or create a means by which the same governments would ask him for favours.
Being based on concern for content over profit, it appears that some of Shaikh Saleh's decisions actually created obstacles to reception of ART channels rather than facilitating it. In 1997 he suddenly abandoned his shared satellite and decoder arrangements with another pay-TV operator, Showtime, jointly owned by a Kuwaiti company and Viacom. This move was later attribUted to ART's wish to dissociate itself from Showtime's more relaxed and Westernized content.99 Kamel himself declared that advertising revenues could never cover the cost of television production of the kind he wanted to see. Addressing a seminar on the sidelines of the Cairo Radio and Television Festival in 1998, he argued that pay TV offered the best means of financing alternatives to the 'dazzling shows that are offered by the West, which do not suit our religion and our traditions'.100 It is said that the least unprofitable ART channel was the non-commercial one, Iqra (Read). Instead of advertising revenue, this brought in donations form pious Saudis.101
The sums spent on creating Orbit were even larger than those lavished on ART. One well-informed account of the investment involved in establishing Orbit gives a figure of at least $1 billion, suggesting it may well have been the most costly direct satellite broadcast effort in the world.102 Costs were driven up by a series of setbacks, including a weak signal on one of the ageing Arabsat craft and strong resistance to expensively priced decoders. But the company started out with big ambitions and kept going. Its backers were originally interested in buying Star TV, based in Hong Kong, from its first owner, Richard Li. It was when this sale failed to materialize that they headhunted Alexander Zilo, an American who had worked in US television before helping to found Star. Zilo, quoted in Newsweek, said Orbit's aim was to provide a niche market of well-travelled and affluent Middle Eastern professionals with programming that would not otherwise be available to them in their home countries. 'These people travel a lot and watch Western television when they're away. When they come home, there's nothing,' he said.103 Yet Orbit was to be a 'self-regulating, conscientious broadcaster, espousing family values'.104 Rather than flouting local traditions, the company's managers professed themselves committed to socially responsible programming that would reflect the interests, tastes and 'political and religious sensibilities of the region's distinctive cultures'.
By linking political and religious sensibilities in this way, Orbit affirmed its closeness to the thinking that drives government-owned media inside Saudi Arabia, where religious reference points are used to legitimize political structures. Under King Khaled the mutawwaeen or religious police, grouped in the Committee for the Prevention of Vice and Propagation of Virtue, were made state employees, while King Fahd adopted the title of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. A Saudi-born researcher has argued convincingly that the mutawwaeen, by preserving a moral order where outward appearances are deemed to matter most have played a crucial role in enforcing a political discipline that benefits the Al Saud.105 Orbit's own role in shielding the ruling family from political questioning was made plain in 1996, less than two years after its start. One of its early initiatives was to sign a ten-year £100 million contract with the BBC in 1994 to provide an Arabic television news service. Although the contract ruled out editorial interference in the BBC's output, friction between the two sides mounted as BBC journalists reported on the activities of an exiled Saudi dissident, Mohammed Masari. Orbit's refusal to screen such items led to breaks in transmission in January 1996.106 When a BBC Panorama programme, called Death of a Principle and highly critical of Saudi Arabia's human rights record, was aired in April, the contract was brought to an untimely end. Orbit's chief executive, Alexander Zilo, denounced the programme as a 'sneering and racist attack on Islamic law and culture'.107 His reaction, while ostensibly defensive of Saudi Arabia's political status quo, may also have reflected the determination of Orbit's management to safeguard business viability by ensuring unbroken transmission to viewers inside Saudi Arabia. Orbit had already encountered distribution difficulties in its early days. Its service had been launched in May 1994, just weeks after Decree No 128 of 10 March banning the use, manufacture or import of satellite dishes and outlawing the delivery of television satellite feeds to subscribers in the kingdom. The Ministry of Interior was charged with enforcing the ban, which it did selectively. In fact the main result of the so-called ban on dishes was not their removal from the market but a steep rise in their price. Nevertheless, the Orbit-BBC news service provided enough coverage of Saudi dissident activities for the authorities in the kingdom to make a special point of confiscating Orbit decoders.
This and other evidence presented here shows the limited explanatory value of saying simply that the three major Saudi-owned satellite ventures were set up under the auspices of members of the Al Saud. The power relations underlying these satellite ventures were complex from the outset because they reflected the shifting alliances known collectively, at any given moment, as the Saudi state. Different branches of the extended Saudi ruling family may have diverging interests vis-a-vis each other, even if they have a shared overall interest in safeguarding the supremacy of the ruling family as a whole. Satellite technology provided a new arena in which state and non-state actors in Saudi Arabia could collaborate and compete. It is in the tension between the interests of individuals, the monarchy and the state that the story of 'Saudi space' is played out.
Fragmentation and disorientation are the two words chosen by Nabil Dajani to capture the processes whereby the Lebanese media reflect and reinforce the contradictions of Lebanon's confessional society, in which religious affiliation assumes deeply entrenched social and political significance.108 The fragmentation of society into sects is mirrored by the media. The broadcast media, in turn, instead of enabling Lebanese citizens to engage with their society as a whole, have further distanced them from it.109 Dajani's insight provides a helpful starting point from which to locate and identify the main players behind Lebanon's satellite television channels. It is precisely the same starting point signalled by
By revoking the broadcasting monopoly granted in 1977 to the state broadcaster, TÈlÈ-Liban, Law 382/94 made Lebanon the first Arab state to authorize private radio and television stations to operate within its borders.110 This decision deprived the country's only non-confessional station of a monopoly it had been promised would last until 2012. By licensing a total of six terrestrial stations, the law obliged TÈlÈ-Liban to face five competitors in a country of just 4 million people with a television advertising market that most people thought could support two or three stations at most. The magic number of six licences, whittled down from 63 applications, had nothing to do with spectrum shortage or any other technicality.111 It was determined by confessional thinking and the minimum number of constituencies that the government of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri felt it needed to satisfy. Thus, besides TÈlÈ-Liban, Maronite Christians were supposed to content themselves with LBC, Sunni Muslims with Future TV, Christian Orthodox with Murr TV and Shia Muslims with NBN. The sixth licence was eventually awarded to Al-Manar TV, run by Hizbollah, the Lebanese Shia political group dedicated to resisting Israel's occupation of the south. It was only ceded after a political struggle in which TÈlÈ-LumiËre, an unlicensed Christian religious station, was allowed to continue broadcasting openly, supposedly to restore the delicate sectarian balance by providing a
Although satellite broadcasting was envisaged under the Audiovisual Media Law, it was to be controlled by a separate piece of legislation, Law 531. Whereas, nominally at least, Law 382 put supervision of terrestrial broadcasting under the Conseil national de l'audiovisuel, Law 531 gave the cabinet the right to grant or revoke licences to broadcast news and political coverage by satellite. In this matter the cabinet was not required to refer to parliament. Thus it is at the power-centre of the Hariri government of the mid-1990s that answers can be found as to who was behind Lebanese satellite television, what they expected to get out of it and the resources that enabled them to get involved. Given that Rafiq Hariri was able to make his particular contribution to Lebanon's post-war reconstruction because of his multiple external connections, especially with Saudi Arabia, Syria and France, it is perhaps not surprising that the first satellite channels launched from Lebanon had backing that was not exclusively Lebanese.
Under Law 382/94, no individual or family was allowed to hold more than 10 per cent in a television company. Licences could only be granted to Lebanese joint stock companies, owned by Lebanese nationals, who were not permitted to hold stock in more than one broadcasting company. Stations applying for a licence had to commit themselves to covering the whole country and broadcasting for a minimum of 4000 hours per year, ensuring that 40 per cent of their programming was locally produced. Insofar as Lebanon's satellite channels could claim they had bases outside the country, it seems they were not subject to these regulations. For example, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdel-Aziz, the Saudi prince with a 30 per cent shareholding in ART, told an advertising
LBC's terrestrial station was founded in the I980s, during the Lebanese civil war, as the official organ of the Maronite Lebanese Forces under the majority ownership of a Maronite Christian, Pierre Daher. It went on air in October 1985 with the financial and technical support of the Christian Broadcasting Network headed by the televangelist Pat Robinson.116 French disapproval of the US televangelists' influence led to an arrangement whereby LBC also acquired rights to transmit large amounts of French programming. The variety of LBC programmes and its mainly professional and commercial approach established it as the country's leading television broadcaster, a status that was also made possible by the composition of its board. This included notables with known connections to the Syrian government, including Suleiman Franjiyeh (health minister under Rafiq Hariri), the wealthy MP Issam Faris, and businessman Nabil Boustani. Being relayed by 11 transmitters across the country, LBC's terrestrial service, consisting of light comedy, films, news (including retransmissions from American and French sources), talkshows, serials and televised church services on Sundays,
When its satellite operations began in 1996, comprising two channels, one free to air and the other available by subscription, LBC had been in the terrestrial broadcasting field for a decade. LBC-Sat, relying mainly on ART's production and satellite transmission facilities at Avezzano in Italy, considered itself 'not really a Lebanese station' and therefore exempt from the requirement of Law 382/94 that 40 per cent of programming should be locally produced.117 LBC-Sat's flamboyant and uninhibited programmes contrasted sharply with those of ART. It appears, however, that ART's majority shareholder, the Saudi businessman Saleh Kamel, believed he was exerting some control behind the scenes. Asked in 1998 how he reconciled the ART-LBC-Sat connection with the fact that LBC 'does not necessarily uphold Islamic values', Kamel asserted that he had 'been able to influence the choice of programming at LBC'.118 Direct Syrian controls were also brought to bear, sometimes more obviously than others. For example, the Syrian government reacted negatively to LBC's programming priorities in July 1998, which they felt to have detracted from the impact of President Hafez al-Asad's visit to France that month. That August, a long-standing friend of Syria's military intelligence chief in Lebanon was appointed to supervise LBC's coverage.119
A combination of Saudi and Syrian influence is something the newly launched LBC-Sat shared with Future International, the satellite offshoot of Future TV. Rafiq Hariri, Lebanon's prime minister from 1992 to 1998 and Future TV's most influential shareholder, is both a Lebanese and Saudi national. Before entering Lebanese politics, he made his fortune and became close to King Fahd by successfully completing several prestigious construction contracts in Saudi Arabia. One of his companies, the Luxembourg-based Techniques Audiovisuelles, has holdings in two major media operations, Future TV and Radio Orient, the latter broadcasting from Paris as well as Beirut. Although he was officially obliged to reduce his own stake in Future TV in accordance with the Audiovisual Media Law, the reduction was regarded by most Lebanese as merely cosmetic, since other shares in the company were held by Hariri's associates. In the same way that Mr Hariri used his personal wealth and business acumen to kick-start post-war reconstruction in Lebanon, he appears to have wanted to use Future TV during his premiership to advertise the country as a thriving services centre and tourist resort deserving every dollar of investment Gulf Arabs and others would be prepared to put in. Future TV managers stressed their mission to promote 'civil peace, reconstruction and the consolidation of Lebanon', and contrasted their satellite channel's programming with that of
Concerns about the implications of Rafiq Hariri's links with the Saudi leadership appeared to be vindicated in late 1997 when he quickly responded to complaints from unnamed officials in the Gulf about political programmes carried by Lebanon's two satellite channels. The complaints coincided with a spate of controversial programmes, or advertisements for programmes, on LBC and Murr TV, involving one interview with Beirut MP Najah Walim about corruption and another with the exiled General Michel Aoun. Hariri's information minister at the time, Bassem al-Sabaa, told Radio Lebanon in December 1997 that the broadcasts had brought an adverse reaction from 'some Arab information ministers, especially in the Gulf'.121 In January 1998 the Lebanese government, using its powers under Law 531, banned LBC-Sat and Future International from transmitting news. The ban remained in force for more than nine months. Daher, LBC's executive director, denounced the ban as having been instigated by Hariri at King Fahd's request. He said the action had been taken because LBC-Sat was on the verge of overtaking MBC as the most-watched television newscaster in Saudi Arabia.122 This allegation was corroborated by the only viewing figures available. The TV Update for November 1997 released by the Pan-Arab Research Centre in Dubai put LBC-Sat and MBC neck and neck in terms of their share of the audience in Saudi Arabia (see Table 5). Unlike LBC, Future TV did not protest against the ban, describing it instead as a means of safeguarding continued Gulf investment in Lebanon.123
Future TV's commitment to positive reporting about Lebanon appeared to wane somewhat after Rafiq Hariri was replaced by Selim al-Hoss as prime minister in 1998. After repeated bouts of criticism of
Indeed Hariri's pivotal role in the Lebanese-Syrian-Saudi power triangle of the 1990s was reflected particularly clearly in the fortunes of the Lebanese satellite media. For, under his premiership, Lebanon's state-owned broadcaster, TÈlÈ-Liban, remained almost the only Arab state television company not to be broadcast by satellite. This was despite the fact that it was technically and logistically equipped to do so, and despite the popularity of some of its programmes, including one or two serialized dramas ranked by discerning viewers with the best of Egyptian and Syrian production. It was not until October 1999 that the cabinet found the political will to earmark money intended specifically for satellite broadcasting by TÈlÈ-Liban and not to be used towards paying off the company's accumulated debts.127 With a potentially unifying state
News or nuisance?
If the dominant themes of satellite channel ownership in the Middle East in the 1990s were the protection of vested interests and observance of editorial taboos, Qatar's Al-Jazeera Satellite Channel gave a very definite impression of breaking the mould. Al-Jazeera, dedicated exclusively to news and current affairs, swept onto television screens across the region by breaking taboos. It did so as part of a wider shift away from earlier Qatari norms that began when Shaikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani ousted his father and took over as emir in June 1995. Within four months of his takeover, Shaikh Hamad's government announced that it planned to end press censorship, and in February 1996 it set Qatar apart from other Arab states by abolishing the Ministry of Information. The official explanation for the move was highly unusual by regional standards. The outgoing information minister, Hamad Abdel-Aziz al-Kuwari, said he was pleased that Qatar had become the first Arab country to take such a step. It was an experiment which, he said, would serve those in positions of responsibility by doing away with secrecy and enabling them to 'feel the people's pulse'.128 Later that year Qatar became the first Arab country to agree to the local 24-hour relay of BBC programmes in Arabic and English on FM and arrange BBC training for local radio and television personnel.129
To assess exactly how far and where the government of Shaikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani wished to 'do away with secrecy', its media policy needs to be viewed against the emirate's situation before and after the 1995 coup. Qatar is unusual in several ways, not least in terms of its size and wealth. The emirate's total population stood at just 560,000 in 1998, including only around 155,000 native Qataris, making it by far the smallest Arab state. Its GDP per head, at nearly $17,000 in 1998,130 was one of the highest in the region. With a well-funded welfare system, including enviable pupil/teacher ratios in schools, free tertiary education and advanced healthcare provision, the kind of dissatisfaction expressed by the small community of Qataris has generally had more to do with bureaucratic inefficiency or inadequate infrastructure than deeper issues of political liberalization and representation. Nevertheless, the new emir's political reform initiatives were generally welcomed by a population that had started to question his father's inertia. In foreign policy,
The experiment in uncensored television that began with the launch of Al-Jazeera was only one element of the new emir's agenda for change. By March 1999 the top-down reform programme had resulted in the first Qatari elections for municipal councils, in which women as well as men were allowed to stand for office and vote. Four months later Shaikh Hamad appointed a committee to draw up a new constitution with provision for an elected parliament. By combining municipal elections, political rights for women and the promise of legislative elections, Shaikh Hamad's programme set Qatar apart from every one of its five neighbours in the GCC, namely Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and the UAE. But differences between the Qatari government and its co-members of the GCC had long been apparent. They surfaced at the first annual GCC summit after the Qatari coup, when the Qatari delegation walked out of the meeting. One reason for rancour, apart from the support some GCC governments gave to Shaikh Hamad's father after he was deposed, was Qatar's territorial dispute with Bahrain. This concerned the Hawar islands off the Qatari coast, claimed by Qatar but controlled by Bahrain. In pursuit of Qatar's territorial claim, the emirate's radio and press played host to Bahraini dissidents even before Al-Jazeera was launched. Unhappy with support for Bahrain's position from other Gulf states,131 Qatar used its media to score political points in the dispute, giving Mansour al-]amri of the Bahraini opposition movement opportunities to air his grievances in public.132 Cynics might say there was a certain logic in developing this small-scale tactic into a fully fledged policy of acquiring leverage on the Gulf political scene by injecting a nuisance factor into regional satellite television. It so happened the emir and his ministers could do this by taking a principled stand on freedom of expression.
Although the Qatari government eventually staffed Al-Jazeera with BBC-trained professionals rendered jobless by Orbit's April 1996 cancellation of BBC Arabic news, the first news of the channel's creation came with an emiri decree issued on 8 February 1996. Under that decree the state-owned venture was capitalized at QR 500 million ($137 million).133 Start-up was scheduled for 1 November 1996, with broadcasting initially limited to six hours a day. The man put in charge of Al-Jazeera was Shaikh Hamad bin Thamir Al Thani, who was still being referred to as under-secretary at the Ministry of Information and Culture at the time of Al-Jazeera's launch, as the Ministry's actual abolition did not take place until February 1997. Shaikh Hamad bin Thamir made it clear that Al-Jazeera would deal predominantly with news and current affairs, establishing a network of correspondents around the world. But the government deliberately distanced itself from the operation by keeping the Al-Jazeera logo devoid of any mention of Qatar.134 It said the start-up funds for the station were a loan, to last five years. By 2001, if new funding were to be needed, alternative sources would have to be found. By making this money a loan rather than a direct subsidy, the government could dissociate itself from Al-Jazeera's editorial content.
With editorial staff representing several Arab countries and without the institutionalized censorship mechanisms in force in those countries, Al-Jazeera started to cover subjects studiously avoided by the rest of the Arab media. This process developed a momentum of its own. By creating regular slots for televised debates with titles like Akthar min Ra'i (More than One Opinion) and Al-Ittijah al-Muaakis (The Opposite Direction) the stage was set for controversy and the presenters of these shows became potential rivals in seeking public attention. Viewers, stunned at first, gradually became used to loud arguments and confrontations, with Islamists and anti-Islamists pitted against each other, as well as people of all political persuasions and dissidents from Morocco to Egypt and Palestine to Bahrain. Once the first furious complaints from Arab governments had flooded into the offices of Al-Jazeera and Qatar's emir, the recipients learned to ride out the storm. Al-Jazeera's director could say, with some justification, that freedom of expression may be unusual in the Middle East but is not unusual in the developed world.135 At the same time the station discovered that, by gaining privileged access to Baghdad, it could establish a niche for itself as a provider of television pictures to international agencies.
Critics of the experiment claimed that the emirate was giving itself the freedom to tackle topics that were sensitive in other Arab countries while keeping controversial aspects of domestic politics off limits. The foreign minister, Shaikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr Al Thani, refuted this criticism in a press interview in October 1999, citing instances in which he and Qatari government policies had come under attack, including on Al-Jazeera. Judging from the amount of criticism, he said, 'you would think that [Qatar's] population numbered 50 million rather than half a million'.136 Indeed, the Qatari emir's willingness to provide media outlets for local complaints served to reinforce Al-Jazeera as a means of asserting Qatar's independence from less receptive Gulf regimes. This was demonstrated when local radio aired grievances about
Al-Jazeera's launch at the end of 1996 was followed within a few months by that of a second all-news channel, Arab News Network (ANN). There was never any doubt that this was privately owned. It was established in May 1997 in the heart of London's West End by Sawmar al-Asad, son of Rifaat, the estranged brother of Syria's then president, Hafez al-Asad. For most Middle East analysts, there was little mystery about who was behind ANN and why it had been set up. The station was started at a time when the possibility was looming that the ailing Hafez al-Asad might cease to be president within the next few years. As commander of the Defence Brigades during the early 1980s, at a time of political instability in Syria exacerbated by Hafez al-Asad's ill-health,
In other words, Sawmar al-Asad, a French national, was put in charge of ANN on his father's behalf. Since Sawmar al-Asad was just 26 when ANN was founded, there seemed little doubt that his investment in the station had come out of family funds. Moreover, his father had already demonstrated his readiness to use the media to shore up his position inside Syria. He produced a magazine in Syria, called Al-Forsan (The Cavalry), which ceased publication in 1991, and a daily newspaper which closed a year later. During the 1980s he tried to launch an FM radio station serving the Paris region, but was unable to obtain a frequency.138 For a while, Sawmar himself published a weekly magazine in Paris, under the title Al-Shaab al-Arabi (The Arab People). This closed in 1999. The potential benefits for Rifaat of having his own satellite channel were demonstrated, within a few weeks of ANN going on air, when pictures of a meeting he had held in Damascus with Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia were shown repeatedly on ANN on 4 July 1997. Hafez al-Asad clearly disapproved of this footage receiving such attention, as became apparent when Zubayda Muqabel, the member of Rifaat's staff who had shot the film, was taken from her car in Damascus by security forces and held at an unknown location for eight months.139 Rifaat al-Asad was himself stripped of his position as Syrian vice-president in February 1998. Republican Decree No 8, issued by Hafez al-Asad, relievcd Rifaat of all his official dUtics, thereby formalizing a situation that had prevailed informally for some time.140 Nevertheless, via ANN, Rifaat was able to keep the limelight on his political manoeuvres. He attended the funeral of King Hassan of Morocco in July 1999, which Hafez al-Asad did not attend. A few days later Sawmar al-Asad visited Yasser Arafat, the head of the Palestinian Authority, in a move that, in view of persistent difficulties in Palestinian-Syrian relations at the official level, was Seen in Damascus as deliberate provocation on Rifaat's
Just as the reasons for ANN's creation were fairly plain, so was the fact that ANN was spending around $30 million a year142 without any obvious source of funding beyond the accumulated resources of Rifaat al-Asad. In this case, therefore, the question posed throughout this chapter
When, in early 1998, ANN suddenly found $40 million to rent a 12-year lease on the brand new Hot Bird 4 satellite,144 rumours circulated to the effect that Crown Prince Abdullah was helping to foot the bill. Given the media ventures of so many other Saudi princes, this explanation had credibility. Abdullah's involvement would allow him to influence ANN's editorial stance, boost ANN's ability to challenge the popularity of Qatar's uncensored Al-Jazeera Satellite Channel and provide an alternative to the 24-hour news channel which MBC had by then decided to scrap from the bouquet of MBC channels being prepared for Al-Rawwad. A few months after the move from Hot Bird 2 to Hot Bird 4, ANN gained the promise of a place on Arabsat 3A,145 which was eventually launched in February 1999. The links ANN established during this period went some way to helping it survive in late 1999, when Rifaat al-Asad's private port in Latakia was demolished by the Syrian government on the grounds that it was used for smuggling,146 and Rifaat's own funds started to dry up.
In any event, ANN, like other privately owned Middle Eastern 'emigre' satellite channels reviewed here, was clearly born out of the need for a political player in a specific Middle Eastern country to pursue his bid for power from a foreign base because of the constraints on political activity at home.
For decades, television has been a weapon in the struggle over Kurdish autonomy, a struggle that has been fought out mainly in the four countries - Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria - where the majority of Kurds live. As a propaganda weapon it has not always been used in the most obvious way. When Iranian assistance to Iraqi Kurds ceased under an Iraq-Iran agreement of 1975, and the Iraqi government forced thousands of Kurds to relocate away from their homes, truck-loads of colour television sets were distribUted as sweeteners to Kurdish officials and their families to encourage them to co-operate with the uprooting.147 But while television sets were to be found in many homes, Kurdish-language programming was not. It was not available at all in Turkey, Syria or Iran, while Iraqi television broadcasts in Kurdish were strictly government-controlled until after the Kurdish uprising that followed the 1991 Gulf war. At that point more than ten local television and radio stations began to operate in the Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq. These were run by the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and other smaller Kurdish political parties.148
In 1994, an expatriate Kurdish group obtained a ten-year licence from the UK's ITC to broadcast by satellite under the name MED TV, derived from the ancient name for ancestors of the Kurdish people, the Medes. The Turkish government immediately interpreted the move as an intensification of the struggle for Kurdish secession by the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) in south-eastern Turkey. It claimed MED TV was merely PKK TV in disguise. MED TV representatives put up a campaign to counter the Turkish one, accusing the Turkish authorities of pressurizing satellite operators and other potential business partners not to collaborate with MED TV. They published a letter from the ITC, dated 30 August 1995 and addressed to Lord Avebury as chair of the UK Parliamentary Human Rights Group, providing information about communications received by the ITC from the Turkish authorities. The letter appeared to confirm that the ITC had received Turkish requests to investigate the ownership licensing and content of the MED TV service.149
Despite Turkish pressure, the channel started test transmissions in March 1995, showing Kurdish cultural programmes and films and live debates from the MED TV studio in Brussels. From then on its transmission time increased gradually to 18 hours a day, with material broadcast in Kurdish dialects as well as Turkish, Assyrian, Arabic and English to Kurds throughout Europe and the Middle East. The response among Kurds in the Middle East was reflected in the sprouting of satellite dishes in even the most remote Kurdish villages, especially in Turkey.
Sarah Thane, the ITC Director of Programmes and Cable, acknowledged that the ITC had received complaints about MED TV Content from the Turkish authorities but said the decision was prompted by the
This was not to be the last of Europe-based Kurdish satellite television. A reincarnation, named Medya TV, prompted Senkal Atasagun, the head of Turkish national intelligence, to speak in late 2000 in favour of ending the long-standing ban on Kurdish television broadcasts inside Turkey.156 Thus both the territorially linked rationale behind MED TV and Medya TV, and their territorially linked limitations, remained clear. The project that Kurdish viewers liked to think of as their 'nation in the
In Appadurai's model of global cultural flow, people, machinery, money, images and ideas follow increasingly non-isomorphic paths with a speed, scale and volume so great that the disjunctures between them have become central to the politics of global culture.157 This chapter, by applying the non-state-centric analytical approach advised by Strange158 (aimed at discovering who is exercising authority, for what purpose and by what means), was able to trace the paths travelled by people, machinery, money, images and ideas in relation to some of the leading Middle Eastern satellite channels launched during the 1990s. In this field it is self-evident that technology, images and money must follow an isomorphic path, since that is both the raison d'etre and chief characteristic of satellite broadcasting. Bur this chapter has also thrown up striking evidence of close alignments between people, money and ideas in the Middle Eastern satellite television sector, held tightly together by the nature of power relations inside Middle Eastern states. Although many of the people watching these satellite channels may have been doing so from outside Middle Eastern territory, and although some channel owners chose bases outside the region, the exercise of power through the satellite channels was far from deterritorialized. Accepting the need to deconstruct the notion of state control does not preclude the possibility that governments, or their proxies, allies or backers, may prove to be the
Satellite television is often seen as a facet of globalization because, in an age when people and capital move more freely around the globe, it has the potential to foster notions of a global community of consumers. But this is not the only possibility. Transnational television also lends itself to use for nationalist or nation-building purposes, as demonstrated in Egypt's case. The Egyptian minister of information, Safwat al-Sharif, made no secret of his determination to see that Arabic-language satellite channels would be used to promote 'positive' rather than 'negative' aspects of Egyptian and Arab society. Official pronouncements such as these made the umbilical link between the ERTU satellite channels and government objectives abundantly clear. In the Saudi case there was greater complexity, because of the sheer number of princes in the Saudi ruling family and the various ways in which their interests converge and diverge. Nevertheless, the Al Saud role in each venture maintained a direct link between it and the exercise of political power and access to capital inside the kingdom itself. Meanwhile the dominant role adopted by Lebanon's two private satellite broadcasters, at the expense of the state-owned TÈlÈ-Liban, reflected that country's political system and the role played in it by foreign governments. Qatar's high-profile experiment in uncensored satellite television, conducted via Al-Jazeera, was undertaken at the behest of the Qatari emir as part of a top-down campaign of carving out a distinctive regional niche for his tiny state. The two London-based operations, ANN and MED TV, came into being as a direct result of political power struggles, between branches of the president's family in Syria and between the Turkish government and its Kurdish opponents. As demonstrated by the financial difficulties of ANN and the licensing difficulties faced by Kurdish television in exile, these stations' fortunes could be traced directly to developments inside Syria and Turkey.
In fact it was precisely the recognition that the study of power should not be confined to governments and politicians that revealed how much power Middle Eastern governments and politicians wielded over the regional satellite channels established in the 1990s. It showed that they used this power in pursuit of their own domestic and foreign policy objectives. It turned up little evidence of the 'disjunctures between
1. Arjun Appadurai, 'Disjuncture and difference in the global cultUral economy', in M. Featherstone (ed), Global Culture: Nationalism, Globalization and Modernity (London,1990), pp 30l-2.
2. Ibid., pp 296 and 306.
3. David Held and Anthony McGrew, 'Globalization and the liberal democratic
4. Susan Strange, The Retreat of the State (Cambridge, 1996), p 38.
5. Ibid., p 42.
6. Ibid., p 99.
7. The 'co-operative norms, habits and practices' that form the 'essential structures
8. Philip Abrams, 'Notes on the difficulty of studying the state, 1977', Journal of
9. Ibid., pp 77-81.
10. I owe this formulation to Roger Owen, who included it in his presentation to the seminar on 'The Changing Role of the State in the Middle East and Nonh Africa' at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, May 1998.
11. Mohammed Gohar, quoted by Diana Digges, 'On the verge ... of convergence',
12. See the section 'Struggles for diversity' in Chapter 4 for more detail.
13. Middle East Economic Survey, 4 October 1999.
14. The increase in NDP seats between 1990 and 1995, and objections raised by the
15. See Kienle: 'More than a response', p 228; Economist Intelligence Unit, Egypt Country Profile 1995-96 (London, 1995), p 6; Richard Engel, 'State shakes up press houses', Middle East Times, 4 May 1998.
16. Author's interviews in Egypt, 1998-99.
17. Author's interview with the ERTU's deputy director Hassan Hamed, 15 August
18. Personal communications from Professor Magda Bagnied (American University
19. Hussein Amin, 'The development of Spacenet and its impact', in R. Weisenborn
20. Hussein Amin and Douglas Boyd, 'The development of direct broadcast
21. Author's interview with Amin Bassiouny, chairman of Nilesat, Cairo, 15 August
22. ERTU, External Senrices of Radio Cairo (Cairo, 1991).
23. Karen Finlon Dajani, 'Egypt's Role as a Major Media Producer, Supplier and
24. Inshirah El Shal, 'Introduction a la television egyptienne: quelques reperes
25. Naglaa El-Emary, 'L'industrie du feuilleton television egyptien 11 I'ere des
26. State Information Service, Arab Republic of Egypt Yearbook 1994 (Cairo, 1995), p 238.
27. Author's interview with Sana Mansour, head of the ERTU Satellite Sector, Cairo, 15 August 1998.
28. Majallat al-Izaa w'al telefiziyun 3015 (26 December 1992), quoted in El-Emary: 'L'indusrrie du feuilleton', p 262.
29. Raymond Baker, 'Combative cultural politics: film, art and political spaces in
30. Information minister Safwat al-Sharif said in July 1997 that President Mubarak
31. Author's transcript of Sharif's speech, delivered to the Arab-US Association of
32. Some cases of human rights abuse against Egyptians in Saudi Arabia have attracted international attention. For example, the case of Mohammed Ali al-Sayyid, who was sentenced to 4000 lashes in 1990, was reported by Amnesty International USA in a 1996 report on human rights violations in countries receiving US security assistance. The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights lodged an appeal on 10 October 1994, against the sentence of 200 lashes and 45 days' imprisonment passed against Dr Mohammed Kamel Mohammed Khalifa after he complained that his son had been abused at a Saudi school.
33. One floor of the Ramses Hilton in Cairo has long been occupied by a Saudi prince and his entourage, who have regularly attracted negative comment in the Egyptian press.
34. Miral Fahmy, 'Facrning Toshka is no pipe dream for Saudi prince', Middle East
35. A particularly strong denunciation is contained in Moheb Zaki's Civil Society, and Democratization in Egypt, 1981-1994 (Cairo, 1995), pp 191-2.
36. Saudi Television Censorship Guidelines are reproduced in Hezab AlSaadon, 'The Role of Arabsat in Television Programme Exchange in the Arab World', PhD thesis (Ohio State University, 1990), pp 110-11. Shaikh Saleh's guidelines are summarized in ARTICLE 19, 'The Egyptian Predicament: Islamists, the State and Censorship (London, 1997), p 84. An Egyptian producer joked to this author that, hypothetically, Saudi television would not allow him to run a news item about a singing dog.
37. ERTU: External Services, p 7.
38. State Information Service, Egypt Yearbook 1995 (Cairo, 1996), p 168; 'Executive Plan of the Egyptian Satellite Sector for 1997-98' (internal document supplied by the Egyptian Press Office in London).
39. Eutelsat II-F3 at 16∞E was replaced by W2, the first in a new generation of
40. Economist Intelligence Unit, Egypt Country Profile 1998-99 (London, 1998), p 30.
41. State Information Service, Arab Republic of Egypt Yearbook (Cairo, 1994), pp 238-9.
42. State Information Service: Egypt Yearbook 1995, p 242; Egypt Yearbook 1997, p 168.
43. Rebecca Hawkes, 'Egyptian TV adapting to change', Middle East Broadcast &
44. Middle East Broadcast & Satellite, November 1996, p 10.
45. BBC, World Media, 5 September 1997.
46. BBC, Summary of World Broadcasts, 17 May 1995.
47. BBC, Summary of World Broadcasts, 23 June 1997.
48. BBC, Summary of World Broadcasts, 21 June 1997.
49. Author's interview, Cairo, 15 August 1998. Aspects of the allocation of geostationary orbital slots are discussed in Chapter 5.
50. Amin and Boyd: 'The development of direct broadcast television', p 44.
51. ERTU director Abdel-Rahman Hafez told a Cairo Universiry seminar on satellite
52. Matra Marconi won the contract in competition with Hughes and Lockheed Martin Astrospace of the USA, British Aerospace, and a Franco-German consortium of Aerospatiale and Daimler Benz (James Exelby, 'Egypt's first satellite to be built by French', Middle East Times, 1 October 1995).
53. Financial Times, 16 October 1995.
54. Author's interview with Amin Bassiouny, chairman of Nilesat, Cairo, 15 August
55. BBC, Summary of World Broadcasts, 24 October 1995.
57. Al-Ahram Weekly, 23 July 1997, quoted on www.sis.gov.eg.
58. Hamdi Abdel-Halim, head of transmission projects at ERTU, quoted in Al-Ahram
59. Julian Clover, 'Jewel of the Nile', Cable & Satellite Europe, February 1998, p 23.
60. Author's interview with Amin Bassiouny, Cairo, 15 August 1998.
61. Quoted on www.sis.gov.eg, 1 June 1998.
62. www.ssi.gov.eg, 1 June 1998.
63. Chris Forrester, 'Nilesat 2 gets seal of approval', Middle East Broadcast & Satellite, January 1999, p 3.
64. Author's interview with Amin Bassiouny, Cairo, 15 August 1998.
65. Author's interview, Cairo, 21 February 1999.
66. By Hamdi Abdel-Halim, head of transmission projects at ERTU, quoted in Al-Ahram Weekly, 23 July 1997.
67. Author's interviews, August 1998, February 1999.
68. James Napoli, Hussein Amin and Luanne Napoli, 'Privatization of the Egyptian
69. See Table 9 in Chapter 4.
70. Author's interview with Sana Mansour, Cairo, 15 August 1998.
71. Information in this paragraph is drawn from interviews with private advertising agency personnel, Cairo, 18 August 1998.
72. This is the phrase used in an article entitled 'Egypt in the 21st century -
73. www.arabicnews.com, 20 June 2000.
74. This translation of the article in Al-Riyadh of 9 November 1997, is taken from the BBC weekly World Media of 21 November 1997.
75. According to Burke's Royal Families of the World, vol 2, quoted in David Holden and Richard Johns, The House of Saud (London, 1982), p 552.
76. King Fahd's proclamations of affection for 'Azouz' (Abdel-Aziz's pet name) are
77. A translation of the full Basic Law can be found in Anders Jerichow, The Saudi
78. Jon Alterman, New Media, New Politics? (Washington, 1998), P 21.
79. According to Edwin Hart, director of MBC News and International Operations until 1999, news was the 'primary product' of MBC during his tenure (Cable and Satellite Europe, February 1998, p 25).
80. Muhammad Ayish, 'Arab television goes commercial', Gazette 59 (December 1997). p 482.
81. ARTICLE 19: The Egyptian Predicament, p 84.
82. Gulf Marketing Review Supplement, May 1997, p 10.
83. See a shortened Saudi family tree in Michael Field, The Merchants: The Big
84. Gulf Marketing Review, June 1994, p 6.
85. James Hansen, 'Relaunching a bid for Arab viewers', International Herald Tribune. 26 April 1995.
86. Mai Yamani, Changed Identities: The Challenge of the New Generation in Saudi Arabia (London, 2000), pp 39-41.
87. Author's interview with Sami Raffoul, general manager of the Pan-Arab Research
88. Amin and Boyd: 'The development of direct broadcast television'. p 46.
89. L. Marlow, 'The new Saudi press barons', Time, 22 June 1992.
90. MBC press release, 15 Febmary 1999.
91. MBC press release, 28 October 1999.
92. Interview with Chris Forrester in Gulf Marketing Review, October 1999, p 32.
93. Middle East Economic Digest, 23 January 1998, p 6.
94. Sherin Moody, 'Pay television in the Middle East'. Paper presented to the
95. ArabAd 9/1 (January 1999), pp 14-15.
96. Author's interviews, Cairo, 21 and 24 February 1999.
97. Gulf Marketing Review Special Report on Saudi Arabia, May 1997, p 10.
99. Interviews with ART personnel in Cairo, 24 Febmary 1999.
100. TV Dish (in Arabic), 56 (August 1998), p 22.
101. Personal communication from an ART source, 7 July 1999.
102. Douglas Boyd, 'Saudi Arabia's international media strategy: influence through
103. Newsweek, 6 June 1994.
104. Personal communication from Raya Alcadi on behalf of Orbit, 30 July 1998.
105. Madawi Al-Rashid. 'Stare building in Saudi Arabia: the forgotten mutawwa'. Paper presented at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 30 November 1999.
106. Mideast Mirror, 8 January 1996.
107. Raymond Snoddy and David Gardner, 'BBC-Saudi TV row reveals raw spot', Financial Times, 10 April 1996.
108. Nabil Dajani, Disoriented Media is a Fragmented Society: The Lebanese Experience (Beirut, 1992), and Nabil Dajani, 'The confessional scene in Lebanese television'. Paper presented at the Carsten Niehbuhr Institute workshop on 'Islam on TV', Copenhagen, December 1999, p 2.
109. Dajani: Disoriented Media, pp 175-7.
110. The French-Moroccan channel 2M, launched as a private subscriber service in Morocco in 1989, is not comparable as it was not available unencrypted until after it was taken over by the state in 1997.
111. Author's interview with Maitre Touma Arida, Member of the Conseil national de l'audiovisuel, Beirut, 28 March 1998.
112. Human Rights Watch/Middle East, Lebanon, Restrictions on Broadcasting: In Whose
113. ArabAd 9/1 (January 1999), p 14.
114. Middle East Economic Digest, 2 October 1998.
115. Human Rights Watch/Middle East: Lebanon, Restrictions, p 9.
116. Dajani: Disoriented Media, p 105.
117. Author's interview with Pierre Daher, Beirut, 26 March 1998.
118. Interview in www.tbsjournal.com 1 (August 1998).
119. Daily Star, Beirut, 7 August 1998.
120. Interview with Future TV's managing director, Ali Jaber, by Chris Forrester in Gulf Marketing Review, December 1997, p 31. Author's interview with Nadim Munla, Future TV's president, Beirut, 26 March 1998.
121. BBC, Summary of World Broadcasts, 15 December 1997.
122. Author's interview, 26 March 1998.
123. Author's interview with Nadim Munla, 26 March 1998.
124. Daily Star, Beirut, 30 October 1999.
125. ARTICLE 19, Walls of Silence: Media and Censorship in Syria (London, 1998).
126. Translation carried in Middle East International 607 (3 September 1999), p 25.
127. Daily Star, Beirut, 2 November 1999.
128. Interview with Al-Hayat, 11 February 1996.
129. BBC World Service press release, London, 4 November 1996.
130. Economist Intelligence Unit, Bahrain/Qatar Country Profile 1999-2000, (London, 1999), p 46.
131. Ibid., p 9.
132. BBC, Summary of World Broadcasts, 26 January 1996.
133. BBC, Summary of World Broadcasts, 31 October 1996.
134. Author's telephone interview with Mohammed Jassem al-Ali, 27 May 1998.
136. Al-Hayat website, 2 October 1999.
137. Associated Press report from Doha, 19 June 1999.
138. Arabies, September 1997, p 56.
139. Muqabel's arrest was publicized by Amnesty International in an Urgent Action Alert of 24 July 1997. Her release during the last week of February 1998 was reported to the author by a member of ANN management during an interview in London on 28 February 1998.
140. Asharq al-Awsat, 10 February 1998.
141. Economist Intelligence Unit, Syria Country Report, 4th quarter 1999.
142. Author's interview with Qassem Mazraani, ANN Editor-in-Chief, London, 7
144. Author's interview with Paul Hini, ANN executive director, London, 28
145. ArabAd 8/10 (October 1998), p 38.
146. www.arabicnews.com, 16 November 1999.
147. Ann Zimmerman, 'Kurdish broadcasting in Iraq', Middle East Report No 189, 24/4 (July-August 1994), p 20.
148. Peter Feuilherade, 'Med.TV: "Kurdistan in the sky"', http://news.bbc.co.uk, 23 March 1999.
149. Part of the letter is reproduced in a MED TV booklet, entitled The International
150. According to eye-witness reports by Western visitors.
151. 'Court rules in favour of Kurdish TV channel', Cable and Satellite Europe,
152. ITC press release, 23 April 1999.
153. Reuters report, 22 March 1999.
154. Independent Television Commission, Factfile 1998 (London, 1998), p 35.
155. Ian Black, 'Turks want "pro-Kurd" TV censored by Britain', The Guardian, 21
156. The Guardian, 29 November 2000.
157. Appadurai: 'Disjuncture and difference in the global cultural economy', p 301.
158. Strange: The Retreat of the State, p 42.
159. Appadurai: 'Disjuncture and difference in the global cultural economy', p 296.