A major Middle Eastern satellite network has stopped airing Turkish soap operas, the latest entertainment casualties in the region’s volatile politics.
The Dubai-based MBC Group stopped broadcasting its popular Arabic-dubbed Turkish soap operas on March 1, a decision that came just after its chairman, Waleed al-Ibrahim was released from being held in a mass arrest by Saudi authorities.
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The National English newspaper in Abu Dhabi first reported MBC’s decision in its Monday edition.
The network declined to discuss who made the decision, but relations between Saudi Arabia and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are at a low. Turkey backed Qatar as Saudi Arabia and three other Arab countries imposed a blockade on Qatar.
“There is a decision to remove all Turkish drama off several TV outlets in the region,” MBC spokesman Mazen Hayek told The Associated Press on Monday. “I can’t confirm who took the decision.”
Hayek declined to say whether the decision came from inside MBC’s management or outside of the broadcaster.
Turkey’s Culture and Tourism Minister Numan Kurtulmus told Al Jazeera that “it is not a couple of politicians who are supposed to decide who will watch which movies or shows from their desks.”
Founded in 1991, MBC operates in Dubai Media City, a “Free Zone” area home to foreign outlets like the AP news agency.
MBC Chairman Waleed al-Ibrahim was among dozens of princes, businessmen, military leaders and government officials rounded up in what Saudi authorities described as an anti-corruption campaign.
The Saudi government has said the arrests saw detainees agree to hand over $106bn in assets in exchange for their freedom. It’s unclear what al-Ibrahim agreed to with the government.
Asked Monday about MBC’s current ownership structure, MBC spokesperson Mazen Hayek said al-Ibrahim retains a 40 percent stake and has “nominal management control” of the network.
Hayek said he could not confirm who held the other 60 percent of the company.
Saudi Arabia’s Information Ministry did not respond to questions about al-Ibrahim’s settlement and the ownership of the MBC Group.
The MBC increasingly has found itself under the sway of Saudi Arabia’s government, even before al-Ibrahim’s arrest. Its 24-hour news channel, Al-Arabiya, functions as an extension of the Saudi government’s messaging.
Regional politics also have affected another major broadcaster. Qatar’s paid-subscription BeIN satellite network found itself cut off from the four countries blockading Doha – Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
But that access has come back as BeIN holds the broadcast rights to major international football matches, including the upcoming FIFA World Cup.