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Top Middle East Satcaster Pulls Turkish Shows, Allegedly for Political Reasons

ROME – A decision by top Middle Eastern free-to-air satellite network MBC Group to stop broadcasting Turkish TV dramas, allegedly for political reasons, is sparking alarm within Turkey’s TV industry and prompting plans to circumvent the ban.

MBC yanked several popular Arabic-dubbed Turkish shows off the air March 1 – shows that have been a longstanding staple of its programming. The decision is widely considered to stem from current tensions between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, which is believed to control the Dubai-based network.

The tensions center on Turkey’s support of Qatar, with which Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other Arab nations have severed relations. Turkey also maintains ties with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s archrival in the Middle East. Egypt’s Al-Shorouk newspaper reported Wednesday that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman described Turkey as part of a “triangle of evil.”

MBC’s founder and chairman is Saudi businessman Waleed al-Ibrahim, who holds a 40% controlling interest in the network. He is among the dozens of princes, entrepreneurs and high-ranking Saudi officials who were arrested in January as part of an alleged anti-corruption purge. Al-Ibrahim was recently released. It’s not known whether the release involved handing over assets.

Crown Prince Mohammed has ordered a transformation of Saudi society that includes plans to invest $64 billion in media and entertainment in the coming decade. But it appears there may be some caveats.

“Saudis seem to be serious about bringing more liberalization to the media and entertainment sectors of their country and to attract investments, but also to implement a media policy that will better serve the interests of the new ruler,” said London-based analyst Constantinos Papavassilopoulos of IHS Markit.

MBC spokesman Mazen Hayek confirmed to the Associated Press that MBC had pulled Turkish dramas from its channels but declined to say what motivated the decision or whether it was made from inside MBC’s management or outside the broadcaster.

Turkish TV executives view the move as a political one. “Of course it’s a political decision against our government,” said Izzet Pinto, head of Turkish sales company Global Agency, which has sold plenty of Turkish shows to MBC, including “Love for Rent” (pictured). “I hope they change their minds.”

Pinto said the decision is likely to affect his business by about 5%. He said it was “not fair” for Middle Eastern viewers “who love Turkish dramas” and also that “it doesn’t really make sense to boycott, because they can still watch [them] through the Internet.”

Turkey’s pro-government Daily Sabah newspaper quoted Istanbul Chamber of Commerce Chairman Ozturk Oran as saying: “If they insist on the ban, Turkey will turn it into an opportunity by creating a richer variety of channels to reach viewers in these countries.”

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