Examination of Witnesses (Questions 980
WEDNESDAY 30 NOVEMBER 2005
Mr Mostefa Souag, Mr Mohammed Chebarro and Mr Ian
So the journalist bit on it?
Mr Chebarro: Exactly. I said in the same soundbite
that it is a welcome addition to the range of information, yet
when I was asked specifically how the viewers will see it, it
is always a double-edged sword, you do not know where it is going
to fit, but there is, as my colleague Mostefa was saying, this
high awareness, there is also high association. The public is
aware of what is happening in Iraq and the public is aware that
news gathering and news operation is not just an innocent operation
of information. In some countries they call it fourth authority,
in others they call it an objective tool and in others they call
it a watchdog, basically. Yes, there will be especially I said
that the American channel was seen as another extension of the
policy of the US, whereby they say but they are losing in the
information war, that the messages coming out of the Middle East
are not taking on board hundreds of hours of speeches of President
Bush on Al-Jazeera or even on Al-Arabiya, whereas they reckon
that there is a problem of radicalisation within the Arab street
that they need to address and reach out. So to speak, if the BBC
enters the race for viewership, it could be seen as another propaganda
tool. Traditionally, the BBC has always been seen as an independent,
objective force, yet it is risking a reputation, but at various
times of the history of information from the region it was maybe
tarnished or put in question, so this is at stake today for the
Therefore, will it depend upon the quality of the service that
Mr Chebarro: Basically, it is trying to reconcile
22 different Arab streets and 22 different viewerships available
in 22 different countries of that region.
Q982 Lord Armstrong of Ilminster:
I wonder if I could go back just for a moment to Mr Richardson's
expectation that the provision of this BBC Arabic Television Service
will be much more expensive than they are reckoning. I think we
were told that it was expecting to cost £19 million a year
for the 12-hour service which they will be projecting. Do you
think that is a gross underestimate?
Mr Richardson: I think it is a pretty serious
underestimate because I see, yesterday, was it, the Managing Director
of Al-Jazeera talked about the hundred million dollars that go
into Al-Jazeera Arabic each year, and I have been told, and I
think probably it is pretty accurate, that a hundred million dollars
is going into Al-Jazeera English, the channel which is being launched
next month. I understand that Channel Four News, which is about
40 minutes of content five days a week, has got a budget of £20
million. It is a serious underfunding, in my view. Now that there
is the competition with Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya and other channels
coming along, it worries me.
Q983 Lord Maxton:
When they were here yesterday, the BBC told us that they intended
to stream their new Arabic service on the internet service as
well and also, more particularly probably, if you are talking
about a bigger audience, onto the new mobile `phones as well.
Do you do that, or are you intending to do that as well, or do
you see the BBC maybe as gaining an edge on you in that?
Mr Chebarro: I think we have internet streaming.
You can tap into the address and you can see basically our broadcast
up to the minute. There is what you call revenue, and this is
all aimed maybe at revenue, I understand, from the mobile `phone,
which is up-to-the-minute information via mobile `phone. That
needs subscription and is another way of measuring who is tapping
into your information and service. Yes, we are already giving
to mobile telephones and I think Al-Jazeera does the same.
Mr Souag: Yes, the same thing.
Mr Chebarro: I think also the streaming on the
net as well of the broadcast, so it is something which is already
Chairman: I am immensely grateful. Actually
we could go on for very much longer on this but, as you understand,
we have another witness waiting. I think it has been totally fascinating
and thank you very much for the way you have given your evidence.