Sunday, October 30, 2005

BBC to launch Arabic TV service

The BBC announced last week that it is dropping a number of radio services and concentrating instead on the launch of an Arabic television service slated to begin in 2007.

A press release says the move is "aimed at maintaining and enhancing BBC World Services' pre-eminent position and impact in an emerging multi-media scene." They hope to further develop multimedia and video reporting from the Middle East, Russia, South America and South Asia.

Al Jazeera reported that the move would bring the service directly into competition with the controversial Middle Eastern television network. The Telegraph, posted on the Media Channel, also emphasized the move as a reponse to competition from Al Jazeera and declining audiences in 22 countries.

The move will involving closing radio broadcasting in Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Greek, Hungarian, Kazakh, Polish, Slovak, Slovene and Thai in March 2006. Pointing out the resulting job losses because of the cuts, the National Union of Journalists also asked: "Does Jack Straw [UK Foreign Minister] really believe that countries like Kazakhstan where intimidation of political opponents remains common and there is significant international concern that recent elections were rigged no longer need the type of public service broadcasting offered by the World Service".

The BBC tried a similar entry into the Middle Eastern market in 1996 partnering with Orbit Television, funded by the Saudi Mawarid Group. The fledgling network collapsed when coverage of the Sadui Royal Family angered the Saudis. That project was a commercial operation; the current one will be funded by the British government. Many of the original reporters with that venture wound up at Al Jazeera.

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