Saudi state-owned media companies to start relocating from Dubai to Riyadh

By Aziz El Yaakoubi

DUBAI (Reuters) – Dubai-based Saudi public media companies will start moving staff to the capital Riyadh this month, sources said, as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman continues his plan to transform the kingdom into a regional business center.

The move follows a decision by the Saudi government earlier this year to stop granting state contracts to companies and commercial institutions that are headquartered in the Middle East in any other country in the region.

State-owned TV stations Al-Arabiya and Al Hadath informed their employees this week of their intention to start broadcasting 12 hours a day from Riyadh by next January, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.

They added that the move could take up to two years.

MBC Group, the largest media company in the Middle East, and Asharq News, a newly formed TV news channel, also discussed internally their plans to move to Riyadh, the sources said.

The Saudi government took possession of a controlling stake in MBC Group when authorities moved to seize the assets of those targeted by an anti-corruption investigation in 2018.

MBC, Arabiya and Hadath are based in Dubai Media City, the media hub of the United Arab Emirates which hosts hundreds of media companies and most of their headquarters in the Middle East. Asharq News is based in Riyadh but has a large hub at the Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC).

Arabiya and Hadath did not respond to requests for comment.

MBC said in a statement sent to Reuters that in February 2020, the chairman of the MBC group publicly announced his intention to establish a new headquarters in Riyadh, which would involve the establishment of a business and production center.

“Our plans are on track,” the statement read.

Asharq News, owned by the Saudi Research and Marketing Group, said that since its inception, Riyadh has been the main hub for the network’s operations, with regional offices, including in Dubai.

“In February 2020, the company that owns Asharq (…) signed an agreement to be part of the Media City / Creative Zone in Riyadh,” he added.

Bloomberg reported on the media companies’ relocation plans earlier this week.

Despite being close allies, Saudi Arabia and neighboring United Arab Emirates compete with each other to attract investors and businesses, as they both pursue plans to diversify their economies in a post-oil era.

Their national interests have increasingly diverged in recent years, as have their views on regional issues such as their relations with Israel and Turkey.

(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi and Lisa Barrington; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Mark Potter)

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