Qatar’s BeIN Sport Arabic channel slammed for politicizing commentary during World Cup

Qatar-owned BeIN Sports has been accused of breaching FIFA standards; BeIN chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi, below; Turki Al-Alshaikh, chairman of the Kingdom’s General Sports Authority. (Reuters, AFP)
Updated 18 June 2018

Qatar’s BeIN Sport Arabic channel slammed for politicizing commentary during World Cup

  • Sports channel accused of ‘Aljazeera syndrome’ whereby it airs unprofessional content on its Arabic channel, but not on English one
  • Commentators made negative political statements relating to Palestine and the Saudi anti-corruption drive

LONDON/ST. PETERSBURG: The World Cup is supposed to bring people together — but for one Qatar-owned broadcaster, it has become a game of political point-scoring, critics say. 

BeIN Sport, which owns the rights to broadcast the tournament games in the Middle East and North Africa, has been accused of infringing broadcasting standards by “politicizing” coverage of the football tournament.

It has led legal experts to claim that FIFA should launch an investigation into why the broadcaster brought politics into play during coverage of World Cup games. Other commentators have also pointed out that — as with the Al Jazeera news channel — BeIN takes a wildly different political stance on its Arabic and English offerings. 

Instead of critiques of players’ performances, BeIN pundits have ventured offside — with comments aimed at criticizing Saudi Arabia. Qatar is in the midst of a year-long diplomatic dispute with the Kingdom.

In one BeIN broadcast, a commentator accused Saudi of “selling out the Palestinian cause,” while in another the host suggested the Kingdom’s top sporting officials will become “prisoners at the Ritz-Carlton,” a reference to the detentions in Riyadh during the anti-corruption drive last year.

World Cup coverage by BeIN Sport — which is not accessible in Saudi Arabia — prompted Turki Al-Asheikh, chairman of the Kingdom’s General Sports Authority (GSA), to threaten legal action.

“Necessary legal action will be taken in relation to BeIN wrongdoings against KSA, its sports and officials, and for exploiting sports to achieve political goals,” Al-Asheikh tweeted on Friday. “This proves Saudi authorities’ true stance when banning this network from airing on its soil.”

BeIN Sport’s coverage of the opening game of the World Cup — in which Saudi Arabia were beaten 5-0 by hosts Russia — has drawn particular criticism. 

After the game, the BeIN host asked a commentator who was responsible for the defeat, making an unusual link to Saudi Arabia’s corruption crackdown late last year. 

“Who is responsible? The head of the Saudi sports authority, the Saudi Sports Federation, the technical training staff, and finally the players,” the host said. “They are all employees of the crown prince and soon we might see the technical staff and Turki Al-Alshaikh as prisoners at the Ritz-Carlton.”

 
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Saudi Arabia’s poor performance in the game was widely covered by media in the Kingdom, with Al-Asheikh saying he took “full responsibility” for the national team’s loss at the World Cup opener.

But these comments were not widely reported by BeIN — with the network instead turning to what one commentator described as “gloating” and “sarcastic” coverage. 

In one clip, the Moroccan commentator Jamal Astaifi accused Saudi Arabia of “selling out” Morocco, in reference to the Kingdom’s decision not to back the North African nation’s bid to host the 2026 World Cup tournament. 

“They did not vote for Morocco, they sold out Morocco 2026 just like they sold out the Palestinian cause,” Astaifi said. 

“Morocco affirmed to everyone that its decision is independent and is not indebted to anyone. It is a sovereign country and is entitled to take a neutral position regarding some issues and some conflicts, as is the case with the Gulf crisis, and refuses to be a follower to anyone.”

 
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Commentators slammed what they described as politicization of the World Cup and said it marked an “infringement of the rules and standards of professional media.”

Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri, a Saudi political analyst and international relations scholar, said the Qatar-owned broadcaster was attempting to “mire the reputation” of Saudi Arabia and its policies. 

“We see Qatar today resorting to another trick by continuing to give a political tone to everything that is in its own interest and by miring the reputation of the Kingdom through its sport channels,” Al-Shehri said. 

The commentator said that the political differences between BeIN Sport’s Arabic and English services were similar to those between Al Jazeera’s news channels. 

The news service’s Arabic channel has “unprofessional and unethical” commentary that is not seen on the English station, Al-Shehri said. Another called the disparity between the Arabic and English offerings “Al Jazeera syndrome.”

Abdellatif El-Menawy, an Egyptian media analyst, said that BeIN has “distorted the global football event” by using it as a political tool against Saudi Arabia.

“This is an infringement of the rules and standards of professional media,” he said. “BeIN Sport … has abandoned neutrality and professionalism,” he added, saying that the network’s coverage after Saudi Arabia’s 5-0 defeat by Russia was “gloating” and “sarcastic.”

Pat Janssen, chief executive of the Al-Shabab football club in Riyadh, also said that he disapproved of sport and politics being mixed. 

“Sport is the most powerful medium for bringing people together in the world. Sport and politics should never be mixed and so it is sad to see that happening once again,” he told Arab News.

While it is not clear whether BeIN Sport broke any specific terms of its contract with FIFA, one sports lawyer told Arab News that world football’s governing body should investigate the matter. 

“If there are political comments made during a live broadcast of a FIFA World Cup game, then it is something that FIFA will have to look into and should take very seriously,” said the lawyer, who declined to be named.

“It is not easy for FIFA to control what individual broadcasters around the world are saying, but there is nothing wrong with reminding broadcasters of their duties not to bring politics in to the broadcast of a game of the World Cup.”

However, another legal expert said that political views were not usually specifically outlawed in FIFA’s contracts with broadcasters.

“In my experience, there is not generally an obligation in terms of political content,” said Alex Haffner, partner, sports business group at Fladgate law firm, in London

But he said that BeIN’s political stance in its World Cup coverage was against the spirit of football being “above politics.”

“FIFA is all about promoting football as a tool for bringing the world together. To that extent, you could obviously say that it is contrary to that specific ambition.”

Arab News asked FIFA for comment but did not hear back from football’s governing body. BeIN Sport did not respond to a request for comment.

 


Arab News launches Japanese-language online edition

Updated 21 October 2019

Arab News launches Japanese-language online edition

  • News website in both Japanese and English is part of a more digital and more global direction of the Middle East’s leading English language daily

TOKYO: Arab News, the Middle East’s leading English language daily, has launched an eagerly awaited Japanese-language online edition as part of its ongoing global expansion.

As a symbol of the cordial business, trading and cultural relations between the Kingdom and Japan, arabnews.jp commenced coverage to coincide with the enthronement of Emperor Naruhito in the Japanese capital.

The news website, which is available in both Japanese and English, will focus on enabling exchange of information between Japan and the Arab world in business, current affairs as well as arts and culture.

Speaking at a ceremony marking the launch of Arab News Japan on Oct. 21, Taro Kono, Japan’s defense minister, said: “It will be good to have news in Japanese so many Japanese can read about the Arab world.

“I think the Middle East has a lot to offer. Yes, I saw we import a lot of oil and we export a lot of Toyota, but I think our relations need to go beyond that. Japan is racially and religiously very neutral, and we have no negative footprint in history, so we can be a good broker in conflict in the Middle East and that’s what we should be doing.

“So when I was foreign minister, I opened up in Japan new political dialogue, and that was the first time we did it in Cairo, and we are supposed to do it sometime this year for the second time, and I visited almost every single country in the Middle East except Libya, Yemen and Syria, but I guess I visited almost all the rest of the countries, and some several times.

“We share the common values, we have a high respect for the elders and we think that the family is very important values, so we stay in the east of the Asian continent and the “Middle East” in the “West” (of the continent), kind of funny, but we share the common values, and to me we are friends and I think we need to work together.

“In order to do that we need to know what people in the Middle East are actually thinking, what is happening on daily basis and we haven’t got the source for that but now Arab News is now in Japan, and they are going to start news in Japanese. And I bet they would carry news in Japan in Arabic as well, so this is a very good means to exchange the information between the middle east and Japan, so I am very much looking forward to it and this is the beginning of a new era. Our emperor has enthronement ceremony tomorrow, so I mean there can be no better way to start this endeavor. So, welcome Arab News.”

The Japanese-language edition is the first in a foreign language – and the second under the Arab News brand following the highly successful launch of the Pakistan edition.

The content of arabnews.jp is a mix of original reporting from both the Middle East and Japan and translated feed of some of Arab News’s most important news and views.

Arab News is part of the regional publishing group Saudi Research and Marketing Group (SRMG). It has been the English newspaper of record for Saudi Arabia and the region for over 40 years.

Faisal J. Abbas, Arab News editor-in-chief had announced the Japanese-language edition project at the G1 Global conference in Tokyo on Sept. 16, describing it as “part of our more digital, more global direction.”

He had added: “We hope that the new service arabnews.jp helps bring about a better mutual understanding of both our rich cultures and become a trusted communication channel where our friends in Japan can rely on us for credible information and insightful analysis.”

In the Arab world, Saudi Arabia is one of Japan’s most important economic partners. A major part of Japan’s energy imports come from Saudi Arabia.

The Kingdom imports manufactured goods and electronic equipment from Japan, and is a significant destination for Japanese financial investment.

In his speech on the occasion, Majid Al-Qasabi, Saudi Arabia’s Minister for Commerce and Investment said: “We flew from Riyadh to Dubai and from Dubai to Tokyo. I am very honored to be among you here today.

“Japan is a long reliable strategic partner and friend. Since 1955, business has been great between the two countries, we appreciate all the cooperation, the partnerships and the business with the Japanese community. The kingdom of Saudi Arabia has a special relation, especially the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia with the new Emperor.

“We hope that Japan will have a fruitful future and I would like to congratulate Arab News, this is a great opportunity, a moment in history, at least we should be present here with our friends in Japan.”

Also at the launch ceremony was Yuriko Koike, governor of Tokyo and the first woman ever to hold the post. “I want to congratulate Arab News on the launch of their Japanese edition,” she told the audience.

“And this is wonderful news for me in particular as I have worked to strengthen ties between Japan and the Middle East for so many years.

Koike is no stranger to the Middle East or the Arab world. She studied Arabic at the American University in Cairo, graduating in sociology, and spent five years in Cairo in the 1970s, a time she thinks of fondly.

“After college and as a journalist I had the opportunity to interview many Arab leaders, as a member of the Diet and when visiting the Middle East from time to time.

“I tried to create numerous opportunities to create mutual understanding in Japan and Arab countries.

“And since being elected as governor of Tokyo, I am always inviting many Islamic diplomats and ambassadors from Islamic countries to celebrate the Iftar during Ramadan.

“We are nine months away from the start of the 2020 Games in Tokyo, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government is creating a welcoming environment for international tourists and of course those from the Islamic countries.

“I hope these visitors – especially those from Saudi Arabia – can visit with peace of mind and comfort, in Tokyo where tradition and innovation coexist.

“I hope Arab News will be able to act as a bridge to promote mutual understanding between Japan and Saudi Arabia and all the Middle East.”

In an exclusive interview to Arab News in July this year, Koike had said she believed Saudi Arabia was moving in the right direction, referring to women’s empowerment and the changes happening in the country under Vision 2030.

“The challenge in what is going on in Saudi Arabia is really meaningful to enrich the Saudi culture and Saudi society, to make it richer and more diverse,” she had said.

Incidentally, Saudi officials are working with their Japanese counterparts on the formal handover for the G20 leaders’ summit, which will take place in the Kingdom next year, following the highly successful event held in Osaka, Japan, in June.

At that event, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, that Japan was a country dear to the hearts of all Saudis.

“We will work together to prepare for the G20 summit 2020 in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the Crown Prince said.

For his part, Abe had praised the Kingdom’s progress in accordance with the Vision 2030 strategy.