First Published: 2010-03-16

 
Murdoch's Arab foray seen as 'Trojan horse'
 

Egyptians suspect Rotana tie-up part of Murdoch scheme to thaw frosty Arab views of Israel.

 

Middle East Online

By Riad Abu Awad - CAIRO

Some critics smell sulphur in the air

The tie-up between Arab entertainment giant Rotana and pro-Israel media mogul Rupert Murdoch is viewed in Egypt not only with suspicion but as signalling the decline of Arab film and art heritage.

In a country where film and television attract some of the largest audiences across the Arab world, the tycoon's foray into the Middle East is widely seen in cultural circles as a ruse to benefit Israel.

Murdoch's News Corp last month acquired a 9.09-percent holding in the Rotana Group of Saudi royal and business tycoon Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, with an 18-month option to double the stake.

Rotana is one of the largest film producers in Egypt and also owns the rights to hundreds of Egyptian motion pictures.

In Egypt, which signed a 1979 peace treaty with Israel but has resisted a warming of cultural ties, there has been wide suspicion that the tie-up with Rotana is part of a Murdoch scheme to thaw frosty Arab views of Israel.

"Murdoch will enter every Arab home to impose normalisation" of ties with Israel, said Egyptian film critic Ola al-Shafei.

The partnership amounts to "a defeat for the Arab film and art heritage," she added.

Scriptwriter Osama Anwar Okasha wrote that Murdoch's stake in Rotana was a "Trojan horse" designed to stealthily penetrate Arab culture.

"The important thing is not the share sold by Alwaleed, but a person who hands over nine percent can also sell off the rest of the company," said novelist Ezzat Qamhawi.

"We are now facing the reality of the sale of Arab films and music to an investor whose media empire is one of the causes of the erroneous image of the Arab-Israeli conflict in the West," he added.

Murdoch's leading US news outlets like the strident Fox News, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post, and his British holdings such as the Times, Sky TV and the Sun, are often accused of an anti-Arab, pro-Israel bias.

Egypt's state-owned film company has already threatened to stop working with Rotana, whose bouquet of free-to-air satellite channels target an Arab audience across the Middle East that is equally opposed to Murdoch's politics.

"The Arabs see Murdoch as a person who does not respect them, their faith, or heritage," wrote Palestinian journalist and poet, Iqbal Tamimi.

"The majority say that he is gambling with his money if he thinks that the Arabs will forget his far right-wing political news machine, or his pro-Israeli stands," she added.

Murdoch has made no bones about his unabashed support of Israel for decades, and has received a number of awards from Jewish groups amid debate over his own Jewish roots.

On the other hand, Alwaleed, known in his country as a progressive, is a strong supporter of Arab causes -- though not stridently vocal against Israel.

He said last month that he hoped the partnership could help moderate the widely-perceived anti-Arab bias of some of News Corp's most strident outlets, such as Fox News.

"It's not only Fox that in general is against the Arab world. It's an American syndrome," he said at a news conference in Riyadh when the deal was announced.

"We will always do our best to lower that tone," he said.

Outside of financial markets where his Kingdom Holdings is known as the biggest individual shareholder of Citigroup, Alwaleed is best known for his rejected offer of 10 million dollars to New York City for disaster relief after the September 11 attacks.

At the time Murdoch's news outlets lambasted the Saudi prince, and Fox called his offer "an egregious, outrageous, unfair offence" because the money came with a letter asking Americans to consider how US Middle East policy might be linked to the attacks.

But Fox has since run in trouble with its supporters for allegedly bending to pressure from Alwaleed.

When in 2005 Alwaleed was reported as saying he had influenced how Fox News depicted rioting in heavily Muslim suburbs in France, the conservative Accuracy in Media group called for an investigation.

After Alwaleed, who owns a seven-percent stake in News Corp, gave an interview to Fox News this January conservatives blasted the network for its alleged kid-glove treatment.

Rotana's Khalijia channel has begun airing the Turkish series "Valley of the Wolves," which sparked a Turkish-Israeli diplomatic row for its negative portrayal of Israelis.

When the Murdoch-Alwaleed partnership was announced, it stirred speculation Fox News would launch an Arabic news channel to compete with rivals Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, both respected and widely watched across the Arab world.

Murdoch has denied such a plan.

 

Iraq’s peshmerga ‘break’ Mount Sinjar siege

Yemen’s Huthis seize Sanaa state offices

Tough times for oil-rich GCC

Obama concerned about Egypt mass trials

Tumbling oil prices cut budgets of Mideast arms exporters

Turkey acquits sociologist over 1998 explosion

EU foreign affairs head to visit Iraq

Turkey court remands Samanyolu TV chief in custody

IS threatens to kill Lebanese soldiers held hostage

Turkish media chiefs charged with terrorism

Iraq may delay payment of Kuwait war reparations

Over $900 million needed to help Syria children

Saudi rules out oil output reduction

Dutch populist lawmaker to be tried for 'fewer Moroccans' vow

Outrage in Algeria over Islamist call for Algerian author's death

Iraq Kurds, coalition launch offensive to retake Sinjar

Three years to end Israeli occupation in UN resolution

Somalia appoints new PM after bitter infighting

Blow to Israel: EU court removes Hamas from terror blacklist

Sharp rise in Syria passport applications

Turkey FM visit to Iran highlights Syria divide

UK troops mistreated Iraq detainees in 2004

Saudi to carry on massive public spending

Iran to Australia: We warned you about the gunman

From bikini to Jihad in Ceuta, Melilla

Tunisia votes Sunday in second round of presidential poll

Islamist militias launch air strike near key Libyan oil terminals

Egypt refers 312 Islamists to military courts

Turkey rejects EU criticism over media arrests

Kerry meets chief Palestinian negotiator

Saudi cleric sparks uproar for showing wife’s face

15,000 march against country’s ‘Islamisation’ in eastern Germany

Key oil producers face uncertain outlook in 2015

Gulf stock markets tumble

Australia mourns Sydney cafe siege victims

Hostages flee as police storm Sydney café

Erdogan to EU: Mind your own business!

Syria PM in Iran for talks with key ally

22 Swiss jihadists fighting abroad

#illridewithyou: Australians stand in solidarity with Muslims

Sydney siege 'lone wolf' or IS-led attack?

EU support UN efforts for Aleppo ceasefire

Saudi policeman killed in Riyadh hostage-taking

Saudi king receives Jordan monarch

Palestinians push UN bid to end Israeli occupation