Al Ekhbariya news presenter
The British presenter appeared without the traditional head covering.Al Ekhbariya

A newsreader is at the centre of a controversy, after appearing on a state owned Saudi TV channel without a traditional head scarf.

The presenter was broadcasting a bulletin from the London studio of Al Ekhbariya news channel.

While women often appear on Saudi TV without the traditional head coverings, the appearance is thought to be the first by a newsreader on a government-owned station.

The unconventional bulletin provoked strong reactions from the public on Twitter after the clip was shared on several Arabic language news sites. It was viewed tens of thousands of times.

A Twitter hashtag in Arabic was also circulated which translated roughly as #NewsEncouragesAdornments with one user, @HoNABIL, branding the channel 'Zionist enemies of religion'.

Another, @maysaaX, remarked that it was a 'psychological jolt' for the conservative country.

Other users welcomed the move as a progressive step forward for personal freedom and women's rights.

While it was initially seen as a sign that the channel was becoming more liberal, they swiftly responded to the furore, pledging that the incident will not happen again.

Spokesman Saleh Al Mughailif issued a statement on behalf of the channel stating: "She was not in a studio inside Saudi Arabia and we do not tolerate any transgression of our values and the country's systems."

He also attempted to play down the significance of the incident, emphasising the newsreader was simply "a correspondent reading the news from a studio in Britain."

Al Ekhbariya launched in January 2004. Its first ever bulletin made headlines by featuring the Islamic state's first female newsreader, who wore Western clothes with a hijab headscarf.

The clip is the latest chapter in the long battle for women's rights in Saudi Arabia, which in October saw a landmark demonstration over its law preventing any woman from driving a car.

Dozens of women got behind the wheel in full-face veils to protest in Riyadh, where the TV station is based.