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Thursday, February 15, 2024

Qatar channel BeIN permanently banned in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has decided to ban popular Qatar sports channel BeIN from broadcasting in its territory. This has serious implications for the Middle East, with the chief concern being that the spat between Saudi Arabia and Qatar is far from over. It seems as if the two countries are still fighting a proxy war, this time using media channels as the theatre of war.

Saudi Arabia said Tuesday it has permanently revoked the licence of Qatari broadcaster beIN Sports and slapped it with a fine of $2.7 million over alleged “monopolistic” practices. BeIN has been banned in Saudi Arabia and its license has been revoked; this follows a recent WTO decision ruling in favour of Qatar against Saudi Arabia in a case related to piracy of the network beIN.

Subscribing to beIN, the Arab world’s leading sports channel which has exclusive rights to several key tournaments, has been difficult for Saudi fans since the kingdom’s 2017 boycott of Qatar.

BeIN banned in Saudi Arabia: caught in crossfire between two states

Just days after Riyadh and its allies cut ties with Doha, Saudi Arabia banned the sale and distribution of beIN receivers and blocked Qatari websites as well as all transactions with its former ally.

In 2018, Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Competition (GAC) said it was revoking the broadcaster’s licence and imposing the 10-million riyal ($2.7 million) fine, according to local media.

Read more: WTO rules in favour of Qatar in case against Saudi Arabia

On Tuesday, the GAC said a Saudi administrative court had upheld the decision.

The GAC said beIN had “abused its dominant position through several monopolistic practices” that violated the kingdom’s competition law.

In a statement, BeIN dismissed the decision as “nonsensical”, which it said had come after “sham legal proceedings”.

“The very idea that permanently banning a leading competitor from a market could in any way promote competition is plainly absurd,” beIN said in a statement.

BeIN alleges Saudi piracy of its streams as it is banned in Saudi Arabia

BeIN has alleged that since August 2017 a vast and sophisticated Saudi bootlegging network known as “beoutQ” illicitly transmitted its programmes via Riyadh-based satellite provider Arabsat.

The World Trade Organization ruled earlier in June that Riyadh had failed to protect the intellectual property rights of beIN by refusing to take action against beoutQ.

Read more: Ending blockade: Qatar and Saudi Arabia are moving towards a major breakthrough

The ruling could have serious implications for a proposed 300-million-pound ($370-million) Saudi-backed takeover of English Premier League club Newcastle United.

English Premier League football chief executive Richard Masters admitted last month that the proposed takeover involving Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) was “complicated”.

WTO rules in favour of Qatar

Earlier, Qatar had accused Saudi Arabia of blocking Qatari-owned broadcaster beIN and not taking proper action against the theft of its content by a Saudi-based piracy outlet called “beoutQ”.

The WTO panel found that Saudi Arabia had not provided for domestic criminal procedures and penalties to be applied to beoutQ, and that Riyadh prevented beIN from obtaining Saudi legal counsel to enforce its IP rights through the Saudi judicial system.

It also largely rejected Saudi Arabia’s assertion that national security concerns justified its economic actions against Doha — marking just the second time in history WTO experts have taken a stand on a country’s national security claims.

Read more: Did Qatari Foreign Minister secretly visit Saudi Arabia as part of sports diplomacy?

The panel called on Riyadh to bring its measures into conformity with WTO rules.

Qatari Commerce and Industry Minister Ali bin Ahmed Al Kuwari had hailed the ruling.

“Qatar, and international rights holders, have scored a resounding victory today,” he said in a statement, voicing expectation that Saudi Arabia would “respect this decisive ruling and end the theft and piracy of IP rights at once.”

What is Saudi Arabia’s beef with Qatar?

Saudi Arabia, along with the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain, abruptly cut diplomatic, economic and travel ties with Qatar in June 2017, insisting it was too close to Iran and funding radical Islamist movements.

The Qatar–Saudi Arabia diplomatic conflict, sometimes referred to as the Second Arab Cold War, is the ongoing struggle for regional influence between the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) monarchies of Qatar and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA).

Read more: Future for Qatar and Saudi Arabia after ‘almost’ striking a deal?

Qatar has differences with the Saudi bloc on a number of issues: it broadcasts Al Jazeera, that supports the Arab Spring; it maintains relatively good relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s key rival; and it has supported the Muslim Brotherhood in the past. Saudi Arabia frames the conflict with Qatar as a subset of the Iran–Saudi Arabia proxy conflict due to Saudi Arabia’s longstanding concern about the country’s relationship with Iran and Iranian-backed militant groups. However, Qatar maintains the conflict is an attempt for Saudi Arabia to reassert the hegemony over Qatar it enjoyed during the 20th century.

Qatar fiercely rejected those allegations and refused to budge on 13 demands made by its allies-turned-adversaries, including closure of the Doha-based Al Jazeera news network and shutting a Turkish military base in the emirate.

AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk