Saudi news channels start moving operations out of Dubai

Riyadh has told international firms to put their MidEast hubs there by the start of 2024 or risk losing out on business.

The crown prince wants to turn Riyadh into a global hub [File: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg]

Saudi Arabian news channels are starting to transfer operations out of Dubai amid a push by the country’s crown prince to get multinational companies to relocate their headquarters to the kingdom.

Staff at Al Arabiya and Al Hadath, both of which operate under the same media umbrella, were told of the plans to shift to Riyadh from Dubai on Monday, according to several people who spoke on condition of anonymity because they aren’t authorized to speak on the matter. The move will happen in stages, the people said.

The goal is to produce 12 hours of news programming from the Saudi capital by early January, the people said. The rest of the staff will be offered support to move progressively as facilities are completed, and management assured employees that there wouldn’t be layoffs, they said.

Saudi Arabia has been pressuring international companies to put their Middle East hubs in the kingdom by the start of 2024 or risk losing out on business in the region’s largest economy. Dubai Media City has housed some of the region’s largest news companies for more than a decade.

An email and calls seeking comments from Al Arabiya weren’t immediately returned.

Nabeel Alkhatib, general manager at Asharq News, said the channel has been headquartered in Riyadh since its launch. The company has long planned to further expand operations in Riyadh but developing a new headquarters there has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, he said. Asharq’s main operation is currently run out of its offices in the Dubai International Financial Centre. Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, has an agreement with Asharq to provide business content.

Sam Barnett, chief executive officer at MBC Group, the largest broadcaster in the Middle East and North Africa, said the Saudi company’s plans to set up a new headquarters in Riyadh, announced last year, “are on track.” MBC plans to maintain a “strong regional presence,” he said.

From the start of 2024, the Saudi government and state-backed institutions will stop signing contracts with foreign companies that base their Middle East headquarters in any other country in the region, according to a statement from the official news agency in February. The move is intended to limit “economic leakage” and boost job creation, it said.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has pushed an $800 billion strategy to double the size of the Saudi capital and turn it into a global hub, challenging Dubai’s status as the region’s premier business center. While earlier steps included incentives for companies to move, the announcement in February contained an implicit threat of losing out on billions of dollars of deals unless they relocate.

Source: Bloomberg