BBC ARABIC TV
On 25 October, 2005, the BBC World Service announced
its intention to launch a 12-hour Arabic TV news channel.
The channel propositioninitially 12 hours
of linear television, supported by audio and text, and moving
to 24 hours over time, depending on fundingwill be based
around BBC strengths in the region. It will consist of world class
news and current affairs programming covering international and
major regional issues.
Discussion programmes and debates mounted in
conjunction with BBC Arabic radio and online services will offer
a uniquely well-moderated space for sharing views and perspectives
across the region and with the wider world. Great care will be
taken to combine a modern look to the channel with strong information
content, and a broader agenda than regionally-based channels.
There is a clear opportunity to occupy a genuine
"middle ground" in the market, away from the perceived
pro-US offers of Al Hurra and Radio Sawa and with a different
perspective to the Arabic regional channelsboth the more
moderate, regionally focused channels like Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya,
that play to the Arab street, and the more extremist offers from
channels like Al Manar.
The channel will play to the strength of the
BBC's reputation in the Middle East for impartial and accurate
reporting. Audiences are sensitive to the existing TV channels'
perceived bias and there is strong demand for an addition that
is free of regional affiliations and free to provide independent
and fair informationfree of commercial and political pressures.
It will not replace other sources of information but it will be
a favoured addition. It will be seenas is BBC Arabic radioas
a "gold standard" of objectivity against which to judge
other more partisan offers.
The potential commercial impact on BBC World
has been considered. The BBC believe it will be minimal, mainly
due to the low overlap of the Arabic channel's intended audience.
The BBC will maximise synergies between a linear
TV offer and emerging on-demand opportunities on broadband, mobile
and other platforms.
Reprioritisation from within the existing budget
will enable BBC World Service to fund the 12 hour option from
2007, with a total cost of £19.1 million per annum. Capital
costs would be met from within the current £31 million annual
World Service capital budget.
The BBC Arabic TV channel is on time and on
budget for launch in Autumn 2007.
The announcement of the channel was well received
in the Arab world. Public reaction continues to indicate a growing
appetite for an offer from the BBC. The fact that the BBC attracted
very high calibre applicants from across its competitor channels
to the senior post of News Editor also shows that professionals
believe the BBC will be very competitive in this market.
Saleh Negm, the News Editor, is a very experienced
Arab TV professional who has held senior positions in the BBC
Arabic Service and major satellite TV channels. His appointment
has been well received in the Middle East. Other lead Editorial
appointments have been made and the Project Manager is Elwyn Evans,
who is a former Editor of the BBC's 6 and 9 o'clock News and has
played a leading role in numerous channel launches including Sky
News and BBC News 24.
The recruitment process for the main body of
the staff started in Autumn of 2006.
A final decision about the site of the multi-media
BBC Arabic Service including TV has now been taken. The BBC's
Director General has approved a move to the newly refurbished
Broadcasting House, which will ultimately be the site for the
whole of World Service and BBC News when the rest of the building
work has been completed.
A full editorial prospectus of "live"
news and current affairs has been developed, which strengthens
the BBC's competitive advantageits brand, and a reliable
and accurate news service in the Middle Eastwhilst ensuring
an innovative look and feel for the channel, and a clear structure
to the schedule.
A full training programme and immersion into
the BBC's journalistic standards is being prepared for all recruits,
including online modules on editorial standards, and special training
on Israeli/Palestinian issues.
The Project team, led by the Head of Region,
Jerry Timmins, has begun a process which draws on the talent within
BBC Arabic, new market research and carefully selected focus groups
to identify the potential for a multimedia Arabic Service to bring
a very significantly enhanced offer to existing and new audiences.
While the BBC's priority is to launch a successful
TV channel, the larger goal is turning BBC Arabic into a fully
multimedia provider, capable of meeting growing audience demands
for impartial and accurate information delivered in the most convenient
way whether someone is in their car, at home or at work. The BBC
is uniquely placed to be a significant provider of choice in an
Arab world which spans the most developed and least developed
of markets. So it needs to position itself to meet very diverse
demands from, on the one hand, Sudanwhere BBC World Service
has a measured radio audience of over 4 millionthrough
to the Gulf, where competition is high and people expect to be
served with news and information on demand and via an increasingly
large number of devices, with a bias towards television.
FROM 12 TO
Closing the gap to fund a full 24/7 on-air presence
will be the number one priority, in the Spending Review bid in
2007. It will cost a further £6 million revenue per annum
to increase to 24/7 from 12/7.
Closing this gap is essential.
The BBC will initially launch the channel to
cover most of the peak viewing times across the region in the
evenings. To cover the four Middle Eastern time zones and ensure
the channel reaches most potential viewers at peak times will
effectively mean being on air approximately from midday to midnight
However, many major events and breaking stories
in the Arab world, or relevant to it, occur in the early morning
GMT. For example, the raid that killed Al Quaeda's Zaqahry was
announced at 06.00 London time; the Egyptian ferry disaster killing
1,000 people broke in the early morning; and the London bombings
took place at 08.45 London time.
In the long-term it is not credible for a news
channel to be off air when news is breaking. Peak viewing times
are broadly speaking in the evening but at times of breaking news
audiences obviously expect news to be covered and will switch
on. If they do not get the news when they demand it they will
go elsewhere and will probably not return.
In times of heightened crisis, the demand for
news never stops. During the current crisis in Israel and Lebanon,
viewers in those countries need 24-hour coverage. When they get
up in the morning they want a summary of what happened overnight;
when there is a dawn ground attack, they want information as the
situation unfolds. Traditional evening viewing patterns no longer
apply. Demand for news rises staggeringly at times of war or crisis
and news channels make or break their reputations by how they
With the current funding, the Arabic TV channel
will not be on air when these kinds of stories break. From the
beginning of its discussions with the Foreign Office, BBC World
Service has made it clear that a news channel's credibility rests
in part on its ability to be able to respond to breaking news
whenever it happens. That means being on air 24 hours a day.
As yet the FCO has provided no new funding;
World Service has managed to reprioritise £19 million of
its existing funding at the expense of closing 10 language services.
BBC World Service is unable to do any more without doing irreparable
damage to its existing services and reducing its impact worldwide
BBC World Service is arguing in the strongest
terms for the £6 million of extra funding to close the gap
for Arabic television to ensure its long term success. The next
three-year funding round, the 2007 Spending Review, provides World
Service with the opportunity to win the argument and secure the
funding. A failure to do so will have very serious consequences
for the longer-term success and will potentially do enormous damage
to what promises to be a very successful news service from the
BBC World Service believes this is a key opportunity
for Britain. BBC Arabic can make an enormous contribution to the
quality of news coverage about and for the Middle East. It can
play an important part in fostering greater understanding of the
issues which confront both the Arab world and the international
community. However, ultimately it can only do this if it is properly
26 February 2007