Saudi-owned private broadcaster pulls the plug on Turkish dramas

DUBAI - The Arab world's largest private broadcaster has been ordered to stop airing 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 blanket ban 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 said, but he declined to comment on who had made the decision.

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 ban 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.
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