Qatar’s beIN denies Saudi Arabia lifted ban against the channel

BeIN denies that Saudi Arabia has lifted a three-year ban against the channel after news agencies reported such step as part of Gulf reconciliation.

Saudi Arabia said in July 2020 it permanently cancelled the licence of the Qatar-based network barred from broadcasting in the kingdom since mid-2017 [File: Naseem Zeitoon/Reuters]

Qatari TV broadcaster beIN denies that Saudi Arabian authorities have lifted a three-year ban against the channel after news agencies reported such step as part of recent reconciliation between Gulf nations.

On Monday, Reuters news agency reported that several cafes and restaurants in Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh, were using satellite dishes to show football matches from the English Premier League on beIN sports channels.

However, beIN’s satellite TV signals have never fully been blocked in Saudi Arabia, allowing for continued viewing with certain software.

“There is currently no change to beIN SPORTS’ situation in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the channel said in a statement to Al Jazeera, adding: “However, we are hopeful of positive moves to fully allow beIN back into the country following the recent political reconciliation.”

In July last year, the Saudi General Authority for Competition permanently revoked beIN’s broadcast license after first doing so “temporarily” at the start of the blockade against Qatar.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, launched the blockade in July 2017, saying Qatar was a sponsor of terrorism, while also accusing Doha of fostering ties with arch foe Iran which were deemed too close.

Qatar denied the allegations and rejected the demands of the quartet.

Earlier this month, the Gulf states reached a breakthrough in their standoff and signed a reconciliation agreement at a summit in Saudi Arabia.

However, it is unclear if any agreement was made on the status of beIN and other Qatari media outlets in the kingdom.

On Tuesday, beIN’s website was still fully blocked in Saudi Arabia and there has been no official communication from Saudi authorities suggesting that the channel’s license was re-instated.

Global rules breach

Qatar filed a complaint in 2018 with the World Trade Organization (WTO) over Riyadh’s block of the broadcaster in the kingdom and its refusal to take action against piracy of beIN’s content by beoutQ, a commercial-scale pirating operation.

A WTO panel last year found Saudi Arabia breached global rules on intellectual property rights by failing to prosecute beoutQ, while supporting Riyadh’s view it could block the Qatari broadcaster from obtaining legal counsel in the kingdom on grounds of national security.

Riyadh has repeatedly said it is fighting piracy and committed to protecting intellectual property.

BeIN has said Saudi Arabia was its biggest subscriber base and its largest commercial market in the Middle East and North Africa.

A court case, which was brought by beIN under international arbitration rules and claimed more than $1bn in damages against Saudi Arabia, is still pending. The arbitration will be held in London.

A source familiar with the matter told Reuters that beIN would withdraw the case once the broadcaster is allowed back in the kingdom, part of wider political reconciliation between the two countries.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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