Sky News Arabia plan rolls on

Plans for Sky News Arabia channel still on track despite News Corp phone-hacking scandal and failure of BSkyB takeover bid.

Sky News Arabia remains on track despite the difficulties ecountered by News Corp.
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Sky News is pressing ahead with plans to launch an Arabic-language station based in Abu Dhabi, despite the phone hacking scandal in the UK rocking Rupert Murdoch's News Corp empire.

The broadcaster's joint venture in Abu Dhabi, Sky News Arabia, said the launch next spring of the 24-hour news station had not been derailed. Last week, News Corp announced it had dropped a plan to buy out BSkyB, which operates Sky News, in the wake of the phone hacking crisis.

"Sky News Arabia is a 50/50 joint venture with BSkyB and the Abu Dhabi Media Investment Corporation (Admic). Both organisations remain committed to the launch," Sky News Arabia said in a statement. News Corp already owns a 39 per cent stake in BSkyB. But last week it abandoned a US$12.6 billion (Dh46.27bn) bid for full control of the company.

The bid was already controversial because of the control it would have given Mr Murdoch over the UK media industry.

But it proved untenable when News Corp lost the support of key political figures amid allegations of illegal phone hacking.

It is alleged that some journalists at the News of the World newspaper, which was owned by News Corp, illegally intercepted voicemail messages of 9/11 victims, British servicemen's families, celebrities and political figures. Senior executives Rebekah Brooks and Les Hinton last week quit over the scandal, days after the News of the World, the UK's biggest-selling Sunday newspaper, was closed by Mr Murdoch.

Mrs Brooks was arrested by police in London yesterday in connection with the hacking allegations.

Mrs Brooks was editor of the paper from 2000 to 2003, while Mr Hinton was chairman of the News International newspaper division in the years the alleged hacking would have taken place.

The resignations came after the Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who owns a 7 per cent stake in News Corp, urged Mr Murdoch and his son James to "cooperate fully" with inquiries into the scandal.

"If the indications are for [Mrs Brooks'] involvement in this matter … for sure she has to go, you bet she has to go," Prince Alwaleed told the BBC's Newsnight programme.

Less than 24 hours after the interview was broadcast, it was announced Mrs Brooks had resigned from her position as chief executive of News International.

Earlier last week, Prince Alwaleed said he welcomed the decision to close the News of the World.

"The rotten and defective apple (News of the World) has been eliminated by management," the Prince told Forbes magazine via text message. "Moreover, I as shareholder and the Murdochs won't tolerate any unethical behaviour, and the fact that the newspaper was shut down is conclusive proof that News Corp wants to put this case behind it, irrespective of the BSkyB takeover. Plus, News [Corp] is a lot bigger than a newspaper."

The British police investigation into illegal phone hacking by some News Corp employees continues.

The FBI is investigating claims that some journalists employed by News Corp illegally hacked phones belonging to the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York.

Over the weekend, several British newspapers carried advertisements apologising for instances of phone hacking.

Mr Murdoch met with the parents of Milly Dowler, a murdered British schoolgirl whose voicemails were hacked by News of the World in 2002.

Despite the upheaval at News Corp, plans for the Sky News Arabia venture continue.

The channel intends to broadcast free-to-air to more than 50 million households across the Middle East and North Africa region, executives said this year. It is to be based at the twofour54 media zone in Abu Dhabi, with bureaus around the world.

The channel will enter a TV-news market dominated regionally by Al Arabiya, which is part of the Saudi-owned MBC Group, and Al Jazeera, which is backed by Qatar.