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Murdoch Urges Mideast to Open up Media

posted on: Mar 9, 2010

Rupert Murdoch has warned Middle Eastern authorities to liberalise their media markets if they want to attract further investment from international media groups and ride a “powerful wind” of creativity blowing through the Arab world.

In the opening address at the inaugural Abu Dhabi Media Summit, the News Corp chairman warned against “creative protectionism”, telling authorities in the region: “With the right economic incentives you will find creative Arab enterprises rising higher and faster than your most modern buildings.”

He also urged his hosts not to succumb to the temptation of censorship, noting that he had “endured my share of blistering newspaper attacks, unflattering television coverage and books that grossly distort my views or my businesses or both”, but that this was the price of success.

“Markets that distort their media end up promoting the very panic and distrust that they had hoped to control,” he cautioned.

Mr Murdoch’s remarks come as a region characterised by state-controlled media outlets is seeking to attract international media investment and expertise to diversify economies heavily dependent on the energy sector. In a nod to this effort, Mr Murdoch noted that creativity was “the one economic resource that is truly inexhaustible”.

Abu Dhabi is competing with Dubai, where Mr Murdoch’s BSkyB satellite television has based its local operation, and Qatar, headquarters of Al Jazeera’s news network, to establish itself as a regional hub for foreign media investors. It also hopes to become a leading base from which to create and export more Arabic content to a young and increasingly media-literate audience of more than 300m Arabic speakers.

News Corp this week announced three small but symbolic partnerships between its Fox International Channels subsidiary and Twofour54, an Abu Dhabi initiative focused on content creation, and has taken a small stake in Rotana, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal’s Saudi media group.

Mr Murdoch told an audience including Prince Alwaleed and executives from countries including Chile and China that the emirate could create “a capital of creativity that is modern, that is global, and that is fully Arab” if it removed “arbitrary boundaries” and provided the right incentives.

The region would also need to open its markets to global competition, he said, adding that “a creative sector flourishes best in societies where governments intervene with a light hand”.

He called for more transparent television advertising markets, with effective tools for measuring what people are watching and more competition between media buyers and sellers, and said authorities could change the region’s reliance on foreign media and entertainment content.

“Right now, the world does not think of the Middle East when it thinks of creative content,” Mr Murdoch added, but a thriving creative sector could help the region create the 50m jobs a recent Arab Human Development Report said it would need in the next decade.

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Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson
Financial Times