On November 22, Fox Networks announced a deal with a Saudi media group to launch a new TV streaming service in the Middle East and North Africa. A subsidy of 21st Century Fox, Fox Plus will work in partnership with Saudi air-to-satellite company Middle East Broadcasting Group (MBC). For $4.99 a month, customers will be able to access six categories of English-language and Arabic entertainment content. The Saudi government owns 60% of MBC. The remaining 40% belongs to Waleed bin Ibrahim Al Ibrahim, a Saudi businessman.
A month earlier, top executives and major American media companies, including Fox, dropped out of a Saudi-led investment conference in Riyadh. The move was an attempt by these companies to distance themselves from the Kingdom after the disappearance and murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The relationship between President Donald Trump, Fox News, and Saudi Arabia is enough cause to be concerned about the intentions behind the new media outlet. Indeed, when the deal was struck in February 2018, observers believed the acquisition was a move to ensure positive coverage of Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman’s ambitious plans for the Kingdom. Since rising to power, bin Salman has cultivated a close relationship with the Trump presidency, which is also intimately connected with the conservative Fox News Network.
Still, executives at the respective companies maintain the partnership is aimed at breaking new ground in the streaming business. Even if that is the case, the deal underscores the existing alliance between Saudi Arabia, Fox, and the Trump administration to quash news that threatens Trump’s desire to court Saudi money.
After the CIA released a report concluding bin Salman had ordered Khashoggi’s assassination, Trump vehemently denied the claims. In a lengthy statement, Trump revealed his misgivings about bin Salman’s role, and indicated he would take no action against the Saudi government. Fox News pundits and guests have also eagerly dismissed Riyadh’s ties to Khashoggi’s murder. On November 23, Fox News guest Christian Whiton absurdly claimed that the Huffington Post, where Khashoggi formerly wrote, “had some culpability in his death.” Fox News host Sean Hannity supported Trump’s position, saying the two countries ought to maintain ties despite global condemnation of the Kingdom in the aftermath of the Khashoggi affair.
While Trump has claimed he has no financial ties to the Kingdom, a long list of financial transactions exist between the president and the Saudis, dating back to the 1990s. This brazen deception, coupled with Trump’s desire to see a US-Saudi arms deal through, suggests that money holds more value for the American president than basic human rights.
As Trump and Fox News’ unwavering support for the Saudi government continues, the deal between the latter and MBC is likely to be little more than a partisan political exercise.