Ikhbariya, inaugurated on Sunday by the kingdom's first female news presenter, will broadcast in Arabic for 12 hours a day before stepping up to round-the-clock programming, director Muhammad Baryan told Reuters.
 
"We want to tell the world about our country, to give a new image," he said. "The American media... put out things about Saudi Arabia that are not true - like that Saudi Arabia is not fighting fundamentalists."

Critics say the kingdom fuelled "militancy" by promoting anti-Western sentiment in schools, giving "radical" clerics a platform and failing to stem the flow of funds to "extremists". Saudi officials deny those charges.

Riyadh is battling a wave of attacks by suspected insurgents, believed to be linked to Usama bin Ladin's al-Qaida group.

Bomb attacks have killed more than 50 people since May 2003.

Baryan said the state-owned channel would correct false perceptions, including some about the role of Saudi women.

Breaking new ground in the deeply conservative Muslim kingdom, Sunday's opening news bulletin was delivered by female presenter Buthaina al-Nasr, modestly dressed in black headscarf and white jacket.
 
"Some of the things they say about women in our country aren't right. This channel will have women reading the news and will also discuss social issues related to women," he said.

Live debates

Saudi Arabia has already three terrestrial television channels, including one English-language station. But most Saudis ignore them in favour of livelier programmes aired by Arab satellite channels, including Al-Jazeera in neighbouring Qatar and Al-Arabiya in Dubai.

"If you want local Saudi news, the only choice right now is the staid, all-male Channel One. This will be a bit more pleasant and accessible"

Hasan al-Husayni
Saudi businessman

Although satellite television has never been formally legalised in Saudi Arabia it is widely watched across the country. Al-Jazeera is a favourite even though its correspondents have been barred by the Saudi government which was angered by some of its reports.

Businessman Hasan al-Husayni said although the new channel was likely to transmit the same government-approved news as existing channels, its rolling news format and slicker presentation would attract viewers - at least in the kingdom.
 
"If you want local Saudi news, the only choice right now is the staid, all-male Channel One. This will be a bit more pleasant and accessible," he said.
 
Twenty-five correspondents

Ikhbariya has about 25 correspondents in Saudi Arabia and another 20 abroad, Baryan said.

Although aimed at Saudi Arabia and the Arab world, it hopes to broadcast live debates with figures in the United States and Europe, and might include English-language programmes when it moves to 24-hour broadcasting, he said.

"We will let Saudis discuss through satellite with people in the United States and Britain. We want them to discuss things, and help the audience understand who is right and who is wrong."