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Monday, March 29, 2010

Arabs nervous over Murdoch purchase

Last month, media mogul Rupert Murdoch purchased a 9% stake in Arab entertainment giant Rotana.

This has caused some consternation in Egypt that Murdoch, widely assumed in the Arab world to be Jewish, is trying to plant a "Trojan horse" in Arabic culture to normalize relations with Israel.

As Middle East Online says:
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.

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.
Ironically, there is one rich person in this story who is explicitly hoping to affect news coverage with business deals - and it is not Murdoch:
[Prince Alwaweed] 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.

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.