JEDDAH (Rahnuma): When television came to Saudi Arabia in 1965, it was rejected by some as the “devil’s handiwork.”
But far from being in shock, Saudis generally were keen to embrace the new mass medium and learn what was going on in the world.
One TV station with a variety of programs was all it took to ensure that a Kingdom on the cusp of unprecedented prosperity and power also became home to an intellectually curious and informed society.
Saudis who commuted between Riyadh and the Eastern Province had known about the electronic device with moving images since the first TV broadcast from the US consulate in Dhahran in 1955.
“The Eye of the Desert” channel broadcast in English. Two years later, Aramco TV’s wider broadcasting range reached Al-Hofuf and other areas across the Gulf, with content in Arabic and English.
Speaking in front of a large crowd in 1962, then Crown Prince Faisal bin Abdul Aziz announced the Kingdom’s determination to bring television to the public.
“The responsibility of this facility is to serve our religion, our country and our nation,” he said. “It will be in the service of religion, the nation and the people in all necessary efforts and work in these regards.”
Under the banner “Channel of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the single official outlet went live in 1965 with a recitation of the Qur’an the first program to be broadcast.
However, as with almost any new development, the decision to launch the TV station offended Saudi religious conservatives, some of whom staged a demonstration where a number of protesters were killed when police responded to an assault on one of the TV facilities in 1965.
Saudi TV initially broadcast in Riyadh and Jeddah with modest technology and a broadcast time that did not exceed five hours a day. Hooked on the new source of entertainment, Saudi families gathered in front of a TV set every day and waited patiently for the signature tune that announced the beginning of the daily broadcast.