Saudi-owned private broadcaster pulls the plug on Turkish dramas

DUBAI (Reuters) - The Arab world’s largest private broadcaster has stopped showing Turkish television programs, it said on Monday, as tensions rise between Ankara and some Arab states.

Turkish soap operas in particular are a big hit across the Middle East but the decision to pull the plug came into effect at Dubai-based MBC Group - which is controlled by Saudi businessman Walid al-Ibrahim and other Saudi investors - on March 2, a company spokesman said.

“There is a decision, which also apparently included several Arab television stations in several countries, including MBC, to stop broadcasting Turkish dramas,” MBC spokesman Mazen Hayek told Reuters, without saying who had made the decision.

Hayek later clarified his comments, saying that he believed the decision could affect other media outlets in the near future. Dubai Television’s website indicated that at least one Turkish-made show was still scheduled.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates see Turkey’s ruling AK Party, co-founded by President Tayyip Erdogan, as a friend of Islamist forces which both Arab countries oppose across the region.

Relations were further strained by Ankara’s support for Qatar after Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt imposed sanctions on Doha last year over its alleged support for Islamist militants. Qatar denies the accusations.

Some Arab commentators have also been campaigning on social media against what they see as Turkish cultural influence being broadcast into Arab homes through TV shows, often dubbed into Arabic.

Hayek said the decision includes all kinds of Turkish programs, and immediately affects six shows. It was likely to hit revenues and viewership built up over more than 10 years, he added.

However, it also opened opportunities for program makers in countries such as Qatar and Lebanon to fill the gap. “This may be an incentive for Arab producers to create high-level Arabic drama that can be a good alternative to those taken off the air,” Hayek said.

Reporting by Sami Aboudi; editing by David Stamp