Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Competition (GAC) has permanently canceled the license of Qatari broadcaster BeIN Sports, reportedly due to a dispute with Qatar.
The GAC, which is responsible for protecting and encouraging fair competition, said in a statement on its wesbsite that it will also fine the broadcaster SR10 million ($2.7 million) for alleged “monopolistic practices.”
In response, beIN has claimed that the decision was arrived at through “sham legal proceedings” and described the notion that the permanent banning of a major competitor from a market could promote competition as “plainly absurd”.
BeIN Sports license cancelled : Why Saudi Arabia has penalized BeIN ?
The moves follow public complaints and GAC investigations that found BeIN Sports had abused its dominant position in the run-up to the exclusive sports broadcast bundle of the European football championship in 2016 through several monopolistic practices.
These included forcing football fans wishing to subscribe to BeIN Sports in order to watch the tournament to subscribe to other channels, including non-sports ones; forcing subscribers to renew their subscription to the main channels for an entire year as a condition to watch the championship, even though their subscription was still valid and was supposed to cover the period during which the competition was held; and including the fees for championships and sports in the subscription fee, even though viewers might not want to watch the matches.
The practices constitute a clear violation of the competition statute and implementing regulations, the GAC said.
The GAC’s move comes just weeks after the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled that Saudi Arabia had actively promoted and supported pirate broadcaster beoutQ, which launched shortly after the Saudi-led economic blockade of Qatar which began in June 2017.
BeoutQ has challenged the dominance of beIN, which had established itself as the dominant pay-television operator in the Middle East and North Africa over the last decade. Its sports programming has been reproduced virtually in its entirety on the beoutQ platform, although the beoutQ broadcasts are no longer carried on Arabsat’s satellite platform but persist through IPTV set-top boxes. Arabsat has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and Saudi Arabia has always denied being behind beoutQ.
The GAC ruling also comes as the Premier League continues to examine the proposed $376 million takeover of Newcastle United by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.
In response to today’s announcement from the Saudi competition authorities, beIN said: “This decision was arrived at through sham legal proceedings that repeatedly violated beIN’s due process rights at every turn and the decision itself is not only contrary to international law but also the most basic principles of competition law.
“The decision is nonsensical on every single level, banning beIN for packaging its rights in the standard way that sports and entertainment broadcasters all around the world do, and indeed as other broadcasters active in the Saudi market also do.
“Moreover, the very idea that permanently banning a leading competitor from a market could in any way promote competition is plainly absurd.”
The Doha-based broadcaster also questioned “how Saudi citizens can watch Premier League matches legally in Saudi Arabia with this ‘permanent’ ban on the Premier League’s licensed broadcaster”.
The statement concluded: “We also note that Saudi Arabia’s state-sponsored pirate channel, beoutQ, bundled rights and removed competition for nearly three years; yet the only action the Saudi authorities have taken is to deliberately block Fifa, Uefa, the Premier League and others from taking legal action nine times – in complete breach of WTO rules.
“Saudi Arabia’s relentless failure to pay any heed to the rule of law or international norms is only harming sports fans in Saudi, and sports organisations all around the world.”