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Murdoch, Saudi prince team up to launch ‘Arabic Fox News’

rupertmurdoch20080904 Murdoch, Saudi prince team up to launch Arabic Fox News

Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch has partnered with Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal to launch a new 24-hour news network for the Arab world, a move that has drawn mockery from Murdoch’s critics and questions from media experts.

First and foremost among those questions is whether a news service linked to the famously pro-Israeli Fox News will resonate among Arab viewers.

“Fox News, famous for its uncomplicated, gung-ho and pro-Israel stance whilst maintaining a mocking notion of neutrality, does not seem like a likely partner” for the Middle Eastern news network, writes David Roberts at the Gulf Blog. “Their coverage of Middle Eastern issues is far from renowned or competent.”

The new channel, based in Saudi Arabia, “will focus on development in Saudi Arabia and the Arab world on the political, economic and social fronts,” Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the world’s 19th-wealthiest person according to Forbes, said in a statement.

The network will be competing with the two principal international Arabic news services, Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, and “is going to become an addition and an alternative for viewers,” bin Talal said.

His statement gave no name for the new channel, and it only said the launch would be in the “near future.”

The deal comes four months after Murdoch bought a nine-percent stake in bin Talal’s Rotana Group. Bin Talal owns seven percent of Murdoch’s News Corp, making him the largest shareholder after Murdoch himself.

As RAW STORY reported last year, the Saudi prince is known for his financial ties to the Bush family and the defense industry-oriented Carlyle Group and for owning a fair-sized stake in Disney and in Citigroup.

At times, the growing partnership between Murdoch and bin Talal has proven embarrassing for Murdoch’s network, whose commentators and guests often take stridently anti-Arab positions.

Earlier this year, Fox host Glenn Beck appeared to blame the 9/11 attacks on bin Talal, when he paraphrased Giuliani as saying to bin Talal, “I don’t think we want your help. You already sent us help, and you flew that help into the plane– into the trade centers.”

Following the 9/11 attacks, then-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani refused a $10 million aid offer from bin Talal, because the Saudi prince had suggested that US policies may have contributed to the attacks. At the time, Fox News praised Giuliani’s decision.

It’s these sorts of tensions that make media observers wonder whether an alliance between the owner of Fox News and an Arabic news network can work.

“Just because it’ll have News Corp. backing doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be friendly to the Western interests, if only because the network won’t be incredibly profitable if it’s all pro-West, all the time,” writes Michael Merritt at the Atlantic Right blog. “But I’ll take a bet that it will be less biased against the West than, say, Al-Jazeera.”

Merritt speculates that the network may also incur the wrath of Saudi censors if it takes its pro-Western attitude too far for the country’s conservative ruling class.

Max Fisher at the Atlantic Wire suggests it may be a good idea for the new news network not to rely too heavily on Fox News as a source of information. He points to a map that Fox recently ran, showing Iraq labeled as “Egypt.”

With reporting from AFP

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