It seems that Abu Dhabi is determined to be a key player on the international media scene and that it is working to pull the rug from under the feet of its neighbour, Dubai. After CNN established a centre in Abu Dhabi to act as its Middle East headquarters, Chairman and Managing Director of News Corporation Rupert Murdoch announced during the opening of the Abu Dhabi Media Summit that Abu Dhabi is to become a base from which it can expand the activities of the media group in the Middle East. Murdoch stated he would transfer some of his satellite television channels from Hong Kong to Abu Dhabi, as it will serve as the headquarters of its advertising operations in the Middle East. This announcement was made only two weeks after declaring that his media group had bought an estimated 9.09 percent stake of Rotana’s entire media network for 70 million dollars.
On the surface, it looks like people’s main concern regarding this relates to the movies and television series presented by some of Murdoch’s satellite television channels such as Fox and Star. However, Murdoch’s media empire includes some elements that have caused great suffering to the Middle East region. Murdoch is the owner of Fox News, the media trumpet for the neo-conservatives who have taken up numerous positions against the Arab and Muslim world away from any kind of objectivity and fairness (this has been an issue that other segments of American society have complained about for other reasons).
Not long ago, Fox News launched a sister business channel called Fox Business, which has taken an “aggressive” and “ideologized” stance towards oil exporting countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, Iran and Venezuela. Moreover, Murdoch owns a group of major newspapers that maintain hostile and negative stances against Arabs and Muslims including highly influential and important papers such as The Wall Street Journal, The Times and The New York Post. These papers have contributed to stirring up anger around the world towards Muslims and have helped promote the stereotypical image linking Islam to terrorism. Some of them embarked on legal battles against Saudi businessmen who were subjected to smear campaigns. Fortunately however, the law ruled in favour of those businessmen.
It will be an enormous challenge for partners and legislative bodies to know where to draw the line – especially with regards to Murdoch’s news channels – between freedom of expression and guaranteeing investment without interfering in editing on the one hand, and ideologized political discourse in the media, which has clearly become a tool to promote political, cultural and religious ideas.
The “moving” of some of Murdoch’s television satellite channels from Hong Kong to Abu Dhabi is neither an innocent decision nor an economic one. It is the result of a series of restrictions set in place by the legislative bodies in China, which always showed reservations and objections to what was being broadcast by Murdoch’s network. It considered some content a threat to China’s national security and forced Murdoch to accept some interference in the content that was aired. This explains why he has now chosen a more flexible and less harsh environment to serve as a new starting point without any nuisances or significant competition. His next step will be to Arabize the content of his programs and I do not mean by dubbing films and soaps into different Arabic dialects. I think his main concern will be news and documentaries, as “this is where the real game is,” said one observer in his analysis of Murdoch’s move.
The Muslim experience with Fox News, The Wall Street Journal and The Times emphasises that they are not objective mediums and they have their own method and ideology that they are keen to spread. And today, they are right on our doorstep!