Bahrain on Monday announced the closure of a new pan-Arab news channel, owned by Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, which had vowed to practice “objective” journalism.
The Al-Arab News Channel, launched on February 1, was on air for only a few hours before reverting to promotional material while trying to resolve what it called “technical and administrative” issues.
“It has been decided to halt the activities of Al-Arab, the channel not having received the necessary permits,” a statement from the Bahrain Information Affairs Authority said on Monday.
Shortly after its launch on February 1, programming was interrupted after Al-Arab broadcast an interview with an opposition politician in Bahrain.
The interview with a pro-democracy advocate sparked criticism in the pro-regime Bahraini daily Akhbar al-Khaleej.
The newspaper said it learnt that Al-Arab was taken off the air for “not adhering to the norms prevalent in Gulf countries.”
In a column in the same newspaper, editor-in-chief Anwar Abdulrahman asked: “Is Al-Arab really Arab?” He condemned the channel for hosting prominent opposition figure and former member of parliament Khalil al-Marzouq, who he called “radical to the core.”
The head of media at Bahrain’s information ministry, Yousef Mohammed, said last week that “cooperation with Al-Arab’s administration is ongoing, in order to resume its broadcasts and complete necessary measures as soon as possible.”
Jamal Khashoggi, Al-Arab’s general manager, could not be immediately reached for comment on Monday.
Prior to the launch of Al-Arab, he told AFP the channel was “not going to take sides.”
Khashoggi said “a news channel should not have a political agenda… We should just be a news channel that provides accurate, objective information.”
Although its news programs stopped within hours of the launch, Al-Arab continued to show promotional material.
Until just after 3:00 pm on Monday, it was broadcasting a message that Al-Arab News Channel programming had been interrupted for “technical and administrative reasons, and we’ll be back soon, God willing.”
But at about 3:04 pm the promotional material stopped and the screen displayed only Al-Arab’s green and white logo.
The tiny but strategic Gulf nation has been rocked by unrest since a 2011 uprising led by its majority demanding a constitutional monarchy and more representative government.
The February 14 Revolution Youth Coalition is an active revolutionary faction which was leading daily protests and sit-ins after the eviction from Pearl Roundabout in March 2011, where Saudi backed troops violently dispersed demonstrators who have been camping on site for a month.
Saudi-led Gulf troops deployed in Bahrain on the eve of the March 2011 crackdown, manning key positions while its own security forces carried out the crackdown.
The Pearl Square roundabout and its central monument, which were a symbol of the uprising, were later razed and the site remains heavily restricted.
At least 93 people are estimated to have been killed and hundreds have been arrested and tried since peaceful protests erupted.
Political activists have been prosecuted by Bahraini authorities for attempting to voice out and expose gross human rights violations by the al-Khalifa ruling family, which has been in power for over 200 years.
Al-Arab entered a crowded field that includes the first regional broadcaster, 19-year-old Al-Jazeera which is subsidized by Qatar.
It is also a rival for Dubai-based Al-Arabiya, established in 2003 and owned by Saudi Sheikh Waleed al-Ibrahim.
Critics have accused the established broadcasters of reflecting their owners’ political views, especially during the 2011 uprisings against authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and North Africa.