I enjoyed reading the book “Aramco TV” by Dr Abdullah Al-Madani, a study of the first Arabic language TV channel in the Gulf. The Arab American Oil Company (Aramco) has left a positive mark on many aspects of life in this region, and television is one of them. This is despite there being many who do not want to admit this fact.
Baghdad was the first to establish a TV channel in the Middle East, and Aramco followed after around two months as the author tells us. The channel was launched in 1957 and covered eastern Saudi Arabia and most Arab Gulf states. History repeats itself; there was a regional and international crisis caused by Syria in the same year, and the Soviets allied themselves with the regime in Damascus whilst the Americans allied themselves with Turkey who had gathered its forces on the border. Moscow then threatened to bomb the Turks if they did not withdraw and then the famous Baghdad Pact was formed. Due to the Suez Canal crisis and the declining role of the British and French, the American President Eisenhower pledged to protect the Gulf from any aggression. The current American administration has now abandoned this protection.
Aramco TV does not have anything to do with any of the above except for one aspect – the Aramco company used to be considered one of the most important American centres in the world and the largest American oil producing company abroad. It financed Saudi Arabia with all its revenues from sales of petroleum. For many, this company was a giant beacon of civilization and it enlightened the region’s people and its neighbours through Aramco TV and Al-Qafilah newspaper which later became a magazine. Perhaps if the TV channel broadcasts reached the rest of Saudi Arabia at the time there would be huge social and intellectual change in those areas. However, it was confined to the eastern region and owning a TV set was close to impossible due to the high price and widespread poverty at the time.