Saudis shocked with Egyptian TV officials’ surprising accusations

Egypt’s media figures believe a ‘Saudi conspiracy’ is behind viewership loss to more popular pan-Arab television channels

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Surprise attacks by representatives of major Egyptian television channels on a number of Saudi Arabia’s regional media firms has left many in the kingdom’s media industry in shock this week, reported the London-based pan-Arab daily Asharq Al Awsat.

Egyptian media representatives, gathered on Sunday at a meeting held by the chamber of audiovisual media industry, launched a series of accusations relating to key Saudi-owned media outlets; including the MBC Group which in 2012 launched an Egypt-focused channel called "MBC Masr".

Some of them questioned Saudi media’s role and agenda in Egypt, speaking of “conspiracy” to monopolize the advertising market and dry up the funding sources of Egyptian media.

The meeting accused Arab TV channels of attempting to exploit the country's political events for the sake of diminishing the chances of commercial competition, especially that there are now more than 100 Arabic satellite TV channels based in Egypt.

According to a report published in 2012 by Arab Advisors Group, a specialized research company, Egypt was the major headquarter for 21.6 percent of the 565 free-to-air Arabic satellite TV channels.

According to Asharq Al-Awsat, a high-ranking Saudi executive at MBC Group (of which Al Arabiya News is part) expressed shock at the Egyptian attacks. “Truth is, we were shocked by this focused attack which we don't yet know who is behind it.”

“But we are confident that the pillars of the private Egyptian media and those in charge of the public media (sector), particularly Information Minister Dorriya Sharfeddine, are aware of the entire truth. “We have not made financial revenues in Egypt. On the contrary, we are spending huge amounts of money,” he added.

The executive also explained that MBC's presence in Egypt has two objectives.

“The first is to connect with about 70 million viewers, particularly as MBC is one of the most viewed channels across the Arab world. The second goal lies in our desire to benefit from the Egyptian market, not financially as some claim, but through media and production partnerships in Egypt – just like we did in the rest of the Arab world,” he said.

“This was and will remain our role as an Arab media institution that contributed to spreading Egyptian production across the Arab world. Not to mention that these partnerships help improve Egyptian TV productions whether they are TV series, talk shows, news shows or others,” he added.

One Saudi media figure, who refused to be named, also voiced shock at the attacks coming from Egypt.

“Does it make sense that after seven months of the most important and expanded Saudi-Egyptian cooperation in the fields of politics, economy, media and others, some in Egypt have decided to attack Saudi media institutions which supported the June 30 revolution and confronted the Muslim Brotherhood's massive media (campaigns) and other media outlets in Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf, and which are allied with the Brotherhood?,” the official said.

Hassan Abdel Fattah, a media specialist, said Saudi and other media institutions operating in Egypt are not in competition with the Egyptian media over advertising.

“(Such statements) are not convincing because Saudi, Lebanese and other (media) institutions do not threaten Egyptian media or compete with it,” Abdel Fattah was quoted as saying by Asharq al-Awsat.

“The public and private sector of the Egyptian media massively grew after the Jan. 25 revolution since freedoms increased, allowing more channels to emerge. The important role of Arabic channels like Al Arabiya and MBC lies in their success at confronting the massive propaganda carried out by Qatari and Turkish channels which oppose the toppling of [Islamist President] Mohammad Mursi,” he also said.

Abdel Fattah added that when it comes to daily news details, Egyptian channels remain the number one choice for the Egyptian audience.

“Therefore, Egyptian channels do not face the threat of losing their viewers to other pan-Arab channels,” he added.

The list of accusations launched by the Egyptian television officials includes an unsubstantiated claim that Ipsos, the region's leading independent media research and viewership entity, sought to manipulate figures in favour of Saudi media outlets.

Ipsos has denied any manipulation of figures and said that such behaviour "doesn't fall in their interest" as a reliable source for information, according to reports published in Egyptian media outlets.

Saudi Arabia has provided massive financial and diplomatic support for Egypt to help the country stand back on its feet following the mayhem that followed the ouster of former President Mohammad Mursi last year.

The MBC Group and Al Arabiya News Channel have dedicated extensive coverage to events in Egypt, giving platform to moderate voices that help promote stability in this key Arab country.

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