While we are all holding our breath here in Lebanon for star media player Hassan Nasrallah’s tonight speech – in which he has promised to reveal ‘hard evidence’ of Israel’s involvement in Hariri’s assassination – a rather less noticed but much more dangerous development has been taking place behind the scenes. A new 24-hour news channel is set to shake up the Middle East mediascape, and behind it is nobody other than Rupert ‘Fox’ Murdoch – destroying media freedom for decades now all over the world – partnering for the occasion with Saudi prince Waleed ‘Rotana’ bin Talal – destroying Arabic music for decades now. Paul Cochrane has investigated the deal and wrote up an excellent article for Arab Media & Society: ‘“However, in the case of the tie-up between Rotana and News Corp., the extent of the harm is much worse, and more pressing. The Arab world is yet to even appreciate the extent of the problem. It’s very unfortunate. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp is more than a media company with an eye on profits. It has political and even ideological dimensions that are hardly hidden. By providing it with that opportunity under the guise of technology transfers, or whatever, Rotana has introduced a menacing new factor to scattered Arab media, which already lack true, authentic identity, and will have little chance standing up to a global giant like News Corp. And the latter doesn’t stop at 9 percent ownership of anything; its model is predicated on constant and rapid expansion. It is hard to imagine a good scenario emerging out of this tie-up,” [Ramzi Baroud] added.
Indeed, Prince Alwaleed gave an indication at the announcement of the tie-up that News Corp.’s acquisition is motivated by more than just profit. “This (News Corp) transaction values Rotana at more than $800 million… But the transaction is way, way beyond finance… Rotana does not need to be financed. It has near zero debt,” he said. (…) The channels may be used as tools to stoke tensions between Gulf countries – best exemplified by the spats between Saudi Arabia and Qatar over Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya – and over wider geopolitical issues, such as Iran, Iraq and Yemen. And crucially, will these new channels “objectively” cover stories in their headquarters’ countries?
Both Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya have been banned in certain countries for reporting uncomfortable truths, yet do not apply the same journalistic ethos when it comes to airing dirty laundry in their home countries. But knowing which stories should run and others to be avoided is a compromise News Corp. knows how to make, having struck a Faustian bargain with China’s censors and state broadcasters to be able to air in the world’s most populous country. Furthermore, Murdoch and Bin Talal are powerful and influential men; men that could stand up to power but more often than not go along with it, and shape the discourse of power. Murdoch after all had a hotline to British Prime Minister Tony Blair during his time in office, and the two talked three times in nine days in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq. Ultimately, it is too early to tell what these new ventures will entail, but the region’s news duopoly seems set for a shake up.’
The article is also featured on Paul’s blog Back in Beirut.
The Middle East: it’s all about drinking and dancing!
I am taking this occasion to finally link to two articles I wrote for Executive magazine last year. The first one, ‘Rockin’ the Shop’ is connected to the above story in that it talks about the music industry in the Middle East, specifically contrasting the corporate Rotana Music to Lebanon’s homegrown independent Incognito Records. The second article, ‘Ales of an Industry’, talks about Almaza – the Heineken-owned ‘Lebanese’ national beer – and 961, a recently started microbrewery challenging Heineken’s stranglehold on the Lebanese beer market. As a Belgian, I am of course severely biased in this matter (i.e. the words ‘Dutch’ and ‘beer’ should never go together), and thus pleased to announce that 961’s beer enthusiast in charge, Mazen Hajjar, is proudly inspired by Belgian trappist and white beers. He promised me that 2010 would see the release of his very own Chimay. Almaza, on the other hand, was not so happy about the article, as it reveals that virtually all ingredients of Lebanon’s ‘national symbol’ are actually imported – mainly from the Netherlands – with the only local ingredient being the water…