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Last Updated: Monday, 12 January, 2004, 17:02 GMT
Saudi TV news channel goes on air
Al-Ikhbariya's opening news broadcast
The new channel was opened by Saudi Arabia's first anchorwoman
Saudi Arabia has launched its first all-news satellite television channel.

Al-Ikhbariya went on air on Sunday and will broadcast in Arabic for 12 hours a day before moving to round-the-clock rolling news, its officials say.

The bulletin was read by the kingdom's first female news presenter in a black headscarf and western-style clothes.

The aim of Saudi Arabia's fourth state-owned TV channel would be to present a new image of the Gulf Arab state, al-Ikhbariya's director said.

We want to tell the world about our country, to give a new image
al-Ikhbariya's director, Mohammad Barayan

Local media analysts say the new channel - with its rolling news format and slicker presentation - will attempt to win over Saudi viewers who often complain that the country's television news is bland and boring.

Analysts say al-Ikhbariya will also compete for the satellite market that is dominated by the Qatar-based al-Jazeera TV channel.

Live debates

"We want to tell the world about our country, to give a new image," the director of the Riyadh-based channel, Mohammad Barayan, told Reuters news agency.

"The American media... put out things about Saudi Arabia that are not true - like that Saudi Arabia is not fighting fundamentalists," Mr Barayan said.

He added that the channel would also correct what he described as false perceptions about the role of women in the deeply conservative desert kingdom.

Al-Ikhbariya has several Saudi women among its news anchors.

On Sunday, Saudi female news presenter Buthaina al-Nasr made history when she launched the channel.

"This channel will have women reading the news and will also discuss social issues related to women," Mr Barayan said.

He said al-Ikhbariya had about 45 correspondents in Saudi Arabia and abroad, and planned to broadcast live debates with politicians and public figures in Europe and the United States.

More choice

Saudi Arabia already has three state-owned channels: Saudi One, the English-speaking Saudi Two, and a sports channel.

Satellite television has never been formally legalised in the kingdom, but it is widely watched there.

Al-Ikhbariya joins a growing number of regional Arab news channels, including al-Jazeera and Dubai-based al-Arabiya.

A US-funded channel targeting the Arabic-speaking world is also planned.

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