MANAMA, Feb 2 (Reuters) - Bahraini authorities have suspended a television channel owned by Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, one day after its launch, following an interview it broadcast with an aide to a Bahraini opposition leader.
Alarab channel blamed technical and administrative reasons for Monday’s halt, without giving details. But a Bahraini newspaper and a source familiar with the matter said the channel had been suspended for violating media neutrality.
The website of privately-owned Akhbar al-Khaleej newspaper said the suspension was “related to the failure of those in charge to abide by the prevailing norms in the Gulf, including the neutrality of media positions and staying away from anything that could negatively impact the spirit of Gulf unity”.
That appeared to refer to the interview with Marzouq, an aide to Sheikh Ali Salman, the detained Secretary-General of Bahrain’s main Shi‘ite opposition movement. It was broadcast after the channel officially went on the air on Sunday.
A source familiar with the affairs of the news channel said Bahraini officials had delivered the suspension order on a visit to the station over issues of “journalistic neutrality”.
A Bahraini official said the suspension had “nothing to do with the Marzouq interview”. The official noted that Alarab had also broadcast an interview with Information Minister Isa Abdulrahman later in the day.
Salman, whose arrest provoked a wave of protests in Bahrain and criticism from the United States, is on trial on charges of promoting regime change by force, a charge he denies.
A spokesman from the news channel was not available to comment. But in a brief statement on its Twitter account, Alarab said: “The channel stopped broadcasting for technical and administrative reasons. We will come back soon, God willing.”
Bahrain’s Information Affairs Authority confirmed that it was working with the Alarab’s “management team in order to swiftly resolve the matter, which is expected to see broadcasting resume shortly”.
Speaking in 2012 in the wake of the Arab Spring revolts against autocratic rulers in some Arab countries, Prince Alwaleed told U.S. news network CNN the planned channel was an attempt to fill “an opening for a more pragmatic and logical channel that really takes the centre’s point of view”.
Bahrain, where the U.S. Fifth Fleet is based, faced protests in 2011 led by mainly Shi‘ite Muslim citizens demanding reforms and more of a share in the Sunni-led government.
Authorities have quelled the protests but the island kingdom continues to face protests and attacks using home-made explosives from time to time. (Reporting by Farishta Saeed, writing by Sami Aboudi, editing by William Maclean and Dominic Evans)