Bloomberg’s Arabic news network contract gives it strict controls

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Bloomberg’s $90m (£69m) deal with a Saudi media firm to launch an Arabic financial news network gives the US firm the right to terminate the contract if its brand is brought into disrepute.

Bloomberg struck a content and licensing deal with Saudi Research and Marketing Group, a leading media group whose chairman is Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan Al Saud, to launch the Bloomberg Al Arabiya service in September last year. The television, radio and digital service, which was renamed Bloomberg Asharq and relocated to Dubai last month, aims to compete against agencies including Reuters and Agence France-Presse and channels such as CNBC Arabia.

SRMG, which is publicly-listed on the Saudi stock exchange in Riyadh, is paying Michael Bloomberg’s news service $9m a year for the rights to use the brand and Bloomberg content across TV, radio and digital news for 10 years.

However, details contained within the 38-page contract seen by the Guardian show that Bloomberg has inserted stringent controls over the use of its content to make sure its brand is not misused.

This includes being able to terminate the contract if there is so-called “deviating content”. This includes content that is “deliberately offensive to any racial or ethnic minority” or “embarrassing, disparaging to Bloomberg or otherwise bringing Bloomberg into business disrepute”.

Bloomberg also exercised control over the appointment of top staff in the venture, including the editor-in-chief for each platform, including having them flown to London, New York or Hong Kong for training.

In addition, Bloomberg stipulated that it would create all the social media accounts for the venture – providing login credentials for the Saudi publishing firm – and contractually made sure that “all account handles and audiences shall be the property of Bloomberg”.

The launch of the new service followed Saudi Arabia flexing its muscle in the region against the Qatari-owned international news broadcaster al-Jazeera. Last May, al-Jazeera was blocked in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates over coverage relating to Iran.

Bloomberg has not had good fortune breaking into the Arabic news market. The company previously teamed up with the Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, at one stage one of the biggest owners of shares in 21st Century Fox and a key ally of Rupert Murdoch. Bloomberg was supposed to provide five hours of business news per day for Al-Arab, an Arabic language news channel owned by the prince, but the channel halted broadcasting in 2015.

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