Dawood al-Shiryan's show gave Saudis a rare outlet to air grievances [YouTube]
YouTube

Authorities in Saudi Arabia have suspended a new television talk show that tackled sensitive issues and aired critical views after just two weeks, according to a report in state-linked media.

The Sabq news website reported on Sunday that the evening talk show “With Dawood”, which aired on state-run SBC channel, was halted for unknown reasons.

The suspension of the show came amid a wide-ranging crackdown on Saudi government’s critics.

Sabq says the surprise decision to stop airing the programme came after just six episodes, which focussed on topics including runaway Saudi women and domestic violence, slums, foreigners married to Saudis and other issues.

The show’s host, Dawood Shiryan, is a household name in Saudi Arabia and an experienced broadcaster who has also overseen elements of the kingdom’s tightly monitored and censored media landscape.

There was no immediate announcement on whether Shiryan retains his post as the head of the Saudi Broadcasting Authority (SBA). Representatives of the SBA could not be immediately reached for comment.

MBS interview

Shiryan previously hosted a long-running evening talk show until November 2017, around the time that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) was solidifying his position as heir to the throne and clamping down on potential rivals and perceived critics by detaining Islamic scholars, poets, businessmen and even top princes.

He interviewed Prince Mohammed for the royal’s second-ever TV interview, which aired in mid-2017 on state TV and the Saudi-owned MBC channel.

Shiryan’s new show followed a similar format to his previous programme, with guests discussing sensitive societal issues and people calling in.

His first episode focussed on Saudi women runaways. It aired not long after an 18-year-old Saudi woman’s plea for help from an airport hotel room in Thailand grabbed international headlines and she was granted asylum in Canada.

Shiryan interviewed a Saudi woman living in exile in London who said she was raped by her brother at the age of eight or nine. She discussed the lack of protection abused women have in Saudi Arabia and the need to change male guardianship laws.

The episode also included an interview with a Saudi male who said he’d fled the kingdom because he had gender dysphoria.

In another episode, Shiryan presses a guest about why foreign women married to Saudi men are categorised as “house workers” by immigration officials.

When the guest denies this, Shiryan plays video clips of several women thanking immigration officials for changing their status on a government portal – an example of how the show attempted to balance criticism with praise for responsive government agencies.

One female guest in a segment discussing unemployment among women graduates directly called on the crown prince to find a solution.

“We want our issues resolved. We want a royal decree from the crown prince like (the late) King Abdullah did,” she said.

Until the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year, MBS was lauded by western media outlets and governments for ushering in reforms, such as allowing women the right to drive, opening movie theatres, and permitting concerts.

The Saudi royal has overseen a broad crackdown on religious leaders and civil society activists over the past year.

Most recently, state prosecutors announced that charges would be brought in court against nearly a dozen imprisoned women’s rights activists, several of whom have been detained for 10 months and allegedly tortured in detention.

The government has not announced the charges and denied the women were mistreated.

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