Written evidence submitted by the BBC
BBC SERVICES IN
BBC World Service is available throughout the
Middle East in English and Arabic, on shortwave, medium wave and
numerous FM frequencies and online. In addition it is available
in Persian in Iran on radio and online.
BBC World television is available free-to-air
across the Middle East on satellite and on cable in some countries.
BBC Newsgathering maintains bureaux in Dubai,
Amman, Cairo, Baghdad and Tehran. BBC Monitoring maintains its
key regional office in Cairo.
As well as the above-mentioned bureaux, The
BBC World Service Trust, supported among others by the FCO and
DFID, is training journalists and supporting the growth of high
quality media in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and Yemen.
BBC Arabic Service
The BBC Arabic Service is both the largest and
the oldest of the World Service's language sections other than
English. It was founded in 1938 and today it is the leading foreign
radio broadcaster in the Middle East. The service is available
on air and online 24 hours a day seven days a week, and also delivers
content to mobile phones and other mobile devices.
The radio operation and the BBCArabic.com
website offer news and information and cover a wide range
of political, social and other issues. Discussions and interactive
programmes expose Arab audiences to a unique range of views on
current topics and debates.
In addition to the radio and online services,
the BBC Arabic Service will launch a television channel in the
Research shows that the radio service is the
most trusted international radio news provider in the region and
has an established reputation for quality.
Eighty per cent of the BBC Arabic radio audience
live in Egypt, Iraq, Syria and Sudan. Northern Sudan and Iraq
are the BBC's largest markets in the Arab speaking world, both
attracting weekly audiences in excess of three million. Listeners
tend to be male, better educated, aged 35-44 and live in large
households (approximately five people in house).
Most of the listening is via shortwave and medium
wave transmissions, which are most popular in state-controlled
However, the Arabic Service is increasingly
available on FM relays, which are proving popular where available
and as a result the BBC's audiences on FM are growing. There are
currently 24 hour BBC relays carrying Arabic output in Bahrain,
Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Sudan and the UAE, as well as Chad,
Djibouti, Mali, Somaliland and Mauritania. As well as the BBC's
own relays, the Arabic Service also has partners stations re-broadcasting
its output in Lebanon and the West Bank, and further afield in
Somalia, Mali, Greece, Germany and even Australia. Of the 12.5
million adults worldwide who listen to the Arabic Service each
week, 3.2 million are tuning in to these FM signals. All the BBC's
audio output is also available through the internet.
Listeners in the Middle East can also enjoy
BBC English and Arabic programmes in digital quality sound 24
hours a day, seven days a week, via satellite through BBC World
Service's partnership with Arabsat.
Audiences mainly tune in for news and current
affairswith the BBC used as a primary source for news in
markets like Iraq, and as a complementary source to TV in most
The BBC is still used by many as a crisis station,
especially in news-sensitive markets like Egypt. This has resulted
in the BBC losing market share against some other international
stations whose programmes are much more entertainment oriented.
However, when it comes to news, the BBC is seen as more trustworthy,
objective and relevant than its international rivals (Sawa, Al
Hurra, RMC and CNN).
The online market in the region is growing and
becoming increasingly competitive. bbcarabic.com is the leading
international Arabic news site on the internet, and has the highest
usage of all the World Service's language sites apart from English.
Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait are key markets.
Research shows high levels of trust in its content,
and it has twice won the international "Best Arabic News
Site" accolade. It currently receives over 21 million page
impressions each monthup 40% on last year. Most of these
online users are from the Middle East and North Africa but it
also has considerable reach amongst Arabic speakers worldwide
who are out of geographical reach of our Arabic-language radio
broadcasts and re-broadcasts.
BBC Arabic TV, the first publicly funded
international television service from the BBC, will be launched
in late 2007. The channel will initially broadcast 12 hours daily
throughout the Middle East at a cost of £19 million per annum,
although the ambition is to extend this to 24 hours, and the additional
funding required for the extension will form part of BBC World
Service's bid in this year's Comprehensive Spending Review.
Initial funding for the service was made available
through a reprioritisation exercise which resulted in the closure
of ten language services last year.
Drawing upon the BBC's unmatched newsgathering
resources, and working alongside BBC Arabic Radio and Online,
the channel's launch will turn the BBC Arabic Service into a genuinely
multimedia operation, indeed the only major international broadcaster
capable of providing news to Arabic-speaking audiences whatever
their medium of choice.
Research in the Middle East shows a very strong
demand for the service. The attached appendix gives more detail
on this research, progress with the channel's development, and
the case for closing the gap from 12 to 24 hours.
BBC Farsi TV to Iran will launch in early
2008. Full funding for the service was announced by the Chancellor
of the Exchequer in October 2006. The operating cost of £15
million a year will be provided in addition to BBC World Service's
existing grant-in-aid funding from the UK Government through the
2007 Spending Review, and will have no impact on the current BBC
World Service portfolio of services.
The service will include news, analysis, debate
and high quality factual and cultural programmes made by the BBC,
and will be on air initially for eight hours a day, seven days
a week at peak viewing time in Iran. It will be freely available
to anyone with a satellite dish in the region. As with all BBC
services, it will be editorially independent in every respect.
The BBC World Service will be the first international
broadcaster to deliver a Farsi tri-media news service under a
single brand. It will enable the BBC to have increased impact
in one of its most important markets, and in a country with a
growing global and regional role.
BBC World Service Programming on the Middle East
Events in the Middle East continue to dominate
the news headlines, and capturing a full picture of the situation,
often against a daily backdrop of violence, is challenging and
complex. As well as the more permanent news presence in the bureaux,
the BBC relies on the determination and courage of a network of
reporters throughout the region.
Audiences listening in English can enjoy the
BBC's flagship programmes: Newshour, 60 minutes of world
news and analysis of the day's top stories from the BBC's most
experienced correspondents, and Outlook which brings human
interest stories from across the globe. World Have Your Say
is the daily multimedia, interactive phone-in programme encouraging
people across the world to question experts and leading international
figures in the news. Recent figures from the Middle East featured
on the programme have included: Salam Pax, The Baghdad Blogger;
Syrian Cabinet Minister, Dr Bouehaina Shaaban and Pierre Gemayal,
Lebanon's Industry Minister.
Iraqi Vice President, Adil Abdul Mahdi talked
to Lyse Doucet in The Interview in February this year.
Assignment looked at Lebanon in December,
asking the question: Winning the Peacehas the war made
Hezbollah stronger than ever? and in the same month it investigated
Palestinians who have collaborated with Shin Bet, the Israeli
Baghdad Billions broadcast in November
was a two-part investigation into the missing billions of dollars
that have poured into Iraq for reconstruction projects.
The New Arab World, was a series about
the pace of change in the Arabian Gulf, broadcast in July last
year. While the smaller states are streaking ahead with modernisation,
liberalisation and opening up to the outside world, their larger
and more powerful neighbours in the Arab World are lagging behind.
This series focussed on Dubai, Qatar, Oman, Lebanon and Egypt
looking at how relationships are changing, and what the future
IranA Revolutionary State, a three-part
documentary series broadcast in October last year, took a close
look at the making of modern Iran. This followed on from a whole
week of special programmes on Iran in May.
Listeners in Arabic can enjoy BBC Arabic service's
flagship news programme The World This Morning (Al-alam hatha
al-sabah) which sets the day's agenda every morning, seven
days a week, and Discussion Point (Nuqtat Hewar), the place
to exchange opinions and share views on a wide range of issues
for Arab speakers across the world.
The Arabic Service also broadcast a series of
debates discussing issues important to people's lives in Jordan,
Kuwait and Sudan in November last year. They formed part of BBC
Arabic's flagship programmes Talking Point and BBC Extra.
The programmes were broadcast live and involved studio audiences
as well as BBC Arabic listeners who called in from around the
world. The focus of the Jordan and Kuwait programmes was on workers'
rights and the events were also broadcast on national television
in those countries. BBCarabic.com featured in-depth video and
audio features exploring the issues covered by the programmes.
In December last year the BBC signed a new agreement
with Radio Riyadh to provide tailored bi-lingual programmes for
learners of English across Saudi Arabia on FM. These programmes
are designed specifically for young people and feature bilingual
presenters. The lessons teach listening and comprehension and
explain points of the English language through topical and human
interest stories. UK lifestyle and culture is also included.
All BBC journalists are required to undertake
an online training programme, developed with the World Service
and Arabic Service, about Israeli and Palestinian affairs and
their historical background.
On the road
In February and March last year, the Arabic
Service took to the road to run promotional shows in Cairo, Amman,
Khartoum, Ramallah and DamascusYour future ... who decides
it? The aim was to get the voices of young men and women in
the Middle East heard on issues that affect their daily lives
and their future. Live radio debates were held weekly in packed-out
university halls and were promoted through interactive booths
at colleges, shopping centres, gyms and coffee shops, and almost
270,000 people got involved.
Over 33,000 people gave in their names for further
contacts with the BBC during the roadshows. Following this success,
BBC Arabic launched a monthly free e-newsletter. Subscribers receive
an update on the programmes and special features coming up, have
an opportunity to share their views and opinions with online debates
and polls and get behind-the-scenes insights of BBC Arabic with
profiles on presenters and backgrounds on the top stories.
The visual element of TV has become key in the
Middle East, with people wanting to watch events unfold live before
their eyes. Al Jazeera has established itself as the leading news
provider in the region. It dominates in terms of reach and is
perceived as more trustworthy then any other news source. Al Arabiya
is also performing well.
On radio, Radio Sawa and Radio Monte Carlo are
the BBC's main regional competitors. Radio Sawa is the leading
station in terms of reach and through its primary offering of
music it generates a large audience to its news bulletins. However,
the news provided by Sawa does not score highly for trust, objectivity
or relevance in any of the markets surveyed by BBC World Service.
Similarly the news from RMC does not score highly.
The region is also a hugely important market
for BBC World television, both editorially and in terms of distribution.
The channel has the biggest daily and weekly regional reach in
the Middle East of any international news channel among business
decision makers, and is available in 6.6 million homes with access
to cable and/or satellite television (over twice as many households
for example as CNN), along with more than 71,000 hotel rooms.
BBC World is committed to new programme initiatives
that bring additional editorial focus to the Middle East. The
Middle East Business Report programme, for example, which
offers analysis of financial, company and economic news, marked
its second anniversary in January 2006. It is produced from Dubai
The Synovate Pax survey 2006 shows that BBC
World is the most popular international channel, watched by more
viewers each day than any other English language channel across
eight Middle Eastern countries. Countries include: Gulf Co-op
Council (GCC) countries of Saudi Arabia (Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam),
UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and three other countriesEgypt
(Cairo and Alexandria), Lebanon (Beirut) and Jordan (Amman).
BBC World Service Trust
The BBC World Service Trust has provided intensive
training to nearly 1,000 journalists and managers since its media
dialogue programme was launched in April 2004 for the Arab media.
It has also engaged with over 200 Arab media professionals and
chief executives and provided a forum for exchange between the
Arab and UK media professionals. The project team are working
with 17 state and privately run Arab media partners who have expressed
a commitment to training and change within their organisations.
The final phase of the project is aimed at building
a cadre of Arab trainers who can deliver high quality training
to help bridge the skills gap in the region. The programme is
supported by an online learning resource and discussion forum
in Arabic for journalists.
In the current welter of comment and speculation
surrounding the Middle East and the Islamic world in general,
BBC Monitoring offers a unique service of news and information
which faithfully and accurately reflects statements and comments
of all hues carried by the media. It produces carefully-selected
reports based on extensive coverage of the world's media including
that of the Arab world.
BBC World Servicethe way forward
In surveys from the region over recent
years, and in bespoke focus group research, the BBC emerges as
the most trusted international news provider on radio.
TV is the dominant news medium in
the Arab world.
BBC World Service radio services
are holding their ground, but are increasingly under pressure.
Of the 12.5 million Arabic radio audience, over 7 million listeners
are in the relatively under developed countries of Sudan and Iraq.
BBC penetration is lower in the Arabic markets where television
is growing fast and where regulatory pressures on FM broadcasting
are greatest, eg Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
Audience research commissioned in
2003, and repeated in 2005, indicated a very strong demand for
a BBC Arabic television service. In seven Arab capitals, a range
of between 80% and 90% of those surveyed said they would be "very
likely" or "fairly likely" to use the service (with
about half in the "very likely" group). This has remained
consistently high over the past two years, and, in some areas,
demand has solidified in the intervening period.
The trusted nature of the BBC's brandits
independence and strong record in news coverageis cited
by most potential users as the reason for their strong interest.
The establishment of an Arabic television
service would mean the BBC was the only media player with a genuine
multi-media offer and all the opportunities which flow from this
in terms of cross-promotion, awareness raising and an enhanced
ability to supply information whenever and wherever audiences