Riyadh, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia has announced plans to invest $9.6 billion to build a $1.2 billion radio cultural centre and to extend the life of its state-owned radio station, Radio Arabe, into 2030.
The announcement was made at a news conference in Riyadh on Thursday.
The station’s former owner, the Kingdom Holding Company, has given up its stake in the Saudi broadcaster to a group led by the king, who will lead a national television project in 2021.
The government will also buy the remaining shareholding of Radio Arabo, which is owned by a Saudi firm.
The new owners will be part of the national television network, which will also focus on promoting Saudi culture and promoting the country’s global ambitions.
The Saudi-owned Radio Araba, which has been the subject of criticism in recent years over its broadcasting practices, has faced criticism from activists for its promotion of social issues.
The BBC has also said it is boycotting the station.
The kingdom is also set to invest in a new radio station that will broadcast a new weekly program in English and French called Radio Saudi Arabia, which aims to be more accessible to the general public.
Saudi Arabia is expected to build the radio centre at a cost of $4.3 billion, which would be the countrys first large-scale radio-cultural centre in the world.
“We will be investing in the Radio Arabie to be a hub for broadcasting Saudi culture, Arabic language, Arabic music, Arabic film and other subjects, which we want to provide a platform for everyone,” said Abdulrahman al-Zaidi, head of Radio Saudiia.
Al-Zaydi said the investment would be a major boost for the country, which suffers from a poor media infrastructure.
The Radio Arabia station has not aired since June, when it was sold to a private firm that is still seeking permission from the government.
Saudi officials have said the new owner will focus on broadcasting in English, and that they have been trying to bring in foreign broadcasters.
The decision to invest billions in a radio cultural institution is not unprecedented, but the scale of the investment, and the number of people involved, is unprecedented.
The project has attracted criticism from rights groups, who say Radio Arabes programming is not free of extremism and does not reflect the views of the Saudi people.
In May, the Saudi government announced it would sell Radio Arabi for $1 billion.
“This investment is a step forward to ensure that the Saudi public can hear the country in its full and authentic capacity,” the Radio Saudi Authority, a state-run radio station and broadcaster, said in a statement.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.