The decision to ban popular Arabic-dubbed Turkish TV shows by MBC – the largest private media network in the Middle East – is a “political move” and “clear censorship”, a Turkish minister said. The Dubai-based, Saudi-owned MBC Group announced through Emirati media on Sunday that the network had received instructions to remove all Turkish programming from all channels until further notice.
“It is not a couple of politicians who are supposed to decide who will watch which movies or shows from their desks,” Culture and Tourism Minister Numan Kurtulmus told Al Jazeera, adding he did not believe the move reflects the opinion of the Emirati people, who have “deep relations” with Turkey.
“We are in a time when information technologies are developing fast. Therefore, I believe that these sanctions and censorship will not limit the choices of the audience.” Turkish soap operas have been highly popular in the Middle East and other parts of the world, including in Latin American and Asia-Pacific nations. Turkish officials say the shows are watched in 140 countries around the world.
The dramas bring in significant income for Turkish media networks, and indirectly boost tourism as fans often visit the sites where episodes are filmed. Al Jazeera requested comment from MBC, but didn’t receive a reply by pubication time. MBC spokesman Mazen Hayek told The National newspaper “there is a decision that concerns several media outlets in many Arab countries that Turkish dramas are to be taken off air, including MBC.”
The move covers all programmes with Turkish origins and has affected six shows, Hayek said, without elaborating. MBC is reportedly controlled by Saudi businessmen and CEO of the company Walid al-Ibrahim, who was imprisoned for nearly three months as part of sweeping anti-graft detentions of dozens of business elites and officials in Saudi Arabia. Al-Ibrahim was only recently freed. The crackdown resulted in those arrested agreeing to pay more than $100bn in assets in return for their freedom, Saudi officials said.
Decision not explained
The network did not explain who took the decision to ban the soap operas or why it was made. Relations between Saudi Arabia and Turkey have been tense since Ankara sided with Qatar against the blockade imposed by Riyadh and several other Arab states. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been a major supporter of Doha since Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Egypt severed diplomatic and trade relations with Qatar on June 5.
The four Arab countries accused Doha of supporting “terrorism” and fostering ties with their regional rival, Iran. Qatar has repeatedly denied the accusations. Shortly after the diplomatic crisis erupted, Turkey’s parliament fast-tracked a troop deployment to its military base in Qatar. Social media users in the Middle East have expressed their disappointment with MBC’s decision.