Satellite station sets out its vision

Alarab, the TV news satellite station backed by Prince Al Waleed bin Talal, is due to go live early next year and is about to embark on a recruitment drive for up to 300 employees.

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Alarab, the TV news satellite station backed by Prince Al Waleed bin Talal, is due to go live early next year and is about to embark on a recruitment drive for up to 300 employees.

The Saudi billionaire plans to launch the Arabic-language station from Bahrain, and was due to sign an agreement with authorities there last night.

Jamal Khashoggi, the manager of Alarab, said part of this agreement was to guarantee Alarab's right to operate freely within Bahrain.

"From tonight, the countdown starts for our launch," Mr Khashoggi said yesterday. "From 10 months to a year, Alarab will be on the air."

Mr Khashoggi was speaking on the sidelines of the Arab Media Forum in Dubai.

He was heading to Bahrain last night, where the final agreement to establish Alarab was expected to be signed.

"Prince Al Waleed will be there. He will sign the final agreement we have reached with the Bahraini government," said Mr Khashoggi.

He added that the agreementspells out the channel's right to operate in Bahrain.

"It is a legal agreement that covers our rights. We demanded a total free environment," he said. "We had to establish something from scratch, because Bahrain did not have a law for free broadcasting."

Freedom of expression is a controversial issue in Bahrain, which slipped down the press freedom rankings after last year's bloody uprising.

The country is currently placed 173rd in the World Press Freedom Index produced by Reporters Without Borders. That is just one place ahead of China, and three ahead of Syria, which was ranked 176th.

"Bahrain … fell 29 places because of its relentless crackdown on pro-democracy movements, its trials of human rights defenders and its suppression of all space for freedom," Reporters Without Borders said in January.

Mr Khashoggi said that the agreement drawn up by Alarab could be used by other media channels looking to set up in Bahrain.

"I'm sure whatever we sign … is going to be used by others, or discussed in the parliament one day," he said. "I'm sure other groups, other parties will demand to have a right to broadcast from Bahrain."

Alarab will start recruitment in "a couple of weeks, or a month", Mr Khashoggi said. He said the station would have a total of 280 to 300 employees.

"We are going to receive our premises next week. We have rented a beautiful location in the centre of Bahrain," he added. "We're going to have a studio at the tip of the building - I can even see Saudi Arabia from there".

The Arabic TV news market is currently dominated by Al Arabiya, based in Dubai, and Al Jazeera, which is funded by the Qatari government.

Another Arabic TV-news station, Sky News Arabia, went live on Sunday evening, and is now broadcasting to 50 million homes across the Arab world.

Commentators have cast doubt on the commercial viability of news stations in the Arab world, where the per-capita spending on advertising is far less than in Europe and the United States.

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