Molotov cocktails, scarred souls, rising death tolls and coups d’état; right now, there seems to be plenty of fodder for the burgeoning pan-Arab news media market.
Flipping through the array of available channels, Doha-based Al Jazeera and Dubai-based Al Arabiya have won the eyes of the Arab world. By keeping up with the demands of the Arab Spring and by breaking the long-held taboo over the criticism of autocrats, both channels, at one point or another, have lost their signal temporarily due to angry governments.
There’s no doubt that it’s a tough world out there, as the channels strive to win an ever larger slice of the pie. And competition is about to get tougher. On May 6, another 24-hour Arabic-language channel is all set to hit the market.
That channel is Sky News Arabia. In one sense, it already has one major advantage. The Sky News brand is already well-known, through the presence of the UK-based Sky News, which has been beaming its coverage worldwide for 23 years.
However, the flipside to that brand recognition is Sky News’ link to Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp, a US-based multinational media conglomerate that has been tarnished by the recent UK hacking scandal.
Needless to say, Nart Bouran, the head of Sky News Arabia, disagrees strongly with that assessment. In fact, he is quick to stress the absence of any link between his new channel and NewsCorp.
“We are a 50-50 joint venture between Abu Dhabi Media Investment Corporation [ADMIC] and British Sky Broadcasting [BSkyB],” he says.
“We do not know anything about NewsCorp and we have nothing to do with them. All I know is who we are. We are Sky News Arabia. We are based in Abu Dhabi and we are an independent organisation; our ownership is very clear. It is ADMIC and BSkyB, no one else.
“We are not a translation of Sky News UK and we are not a copy of it,” Bouran continues, getting into his stride. “Our content is originated in Abu Dhabi and in our bureaus.
“We cooperate, we are sister channels, but in a sense, we complement and we complete each other in terms of news-gathering capabilities. But, in terms of output, we target Arabic viewers in the region as a pan-Arab channel,” he adds.
The troubled brand name aside, Bouran and his team are going to have to be bright enough to shine in a room stuffed to the brim with top-notch competition. Quite apart from the established presence of channels like Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera, Sky News Arabia is also going to have to fight off stiff competition from the likes of Saudi Arabia’s HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, who is teaming up with financial news service Bloomberg to launch Al Arab, yet another 24-hour Arabic news station.
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