BBC in talks to set up Arabic channel

The BBC has been approached by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) with proposals for an Arabiclanguage television news station, in a move that could represent a comeback for the broadcaster in the region after eight years.

The FCO, which pays for the BBC World Service, wants the broadcaster to consider setting up a 24-hour news channel that would span the Middle East, but would also be available for viewing by Arabic speakers in the UK and the rest of Europe.

The Foreign Office raised the plan following evidence sessions with BBC World Service acting director Nigel Chapman and chief operating officer Andrew Hind in front of the Foreign Affairs Committee on 22 June, as part of its inquiry into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Annual Report 2003-04.

The BBC confirmed the FCO’s proposal had come “after discussions about the changing media scene in the Middle East, and in the light of the growing impact of regional satellite TV services in Arabic”.

A World Service spokesman told Press Gazette: “As is the case with all BBC World Service broadcasts, the channel would be editorially independent of the FCO and the UK Government and would comply fully with BBC editorial guidelines.

“Details of the proposal for this noncommercial service are currently under discussion with the FCO and the Treasury as part of the Spending Review process.”

The move would represent a return to Arabic television for the BBC, which ran a commercial station financially backed by Saudi-based Orbit Communications for eight hours a day between June 1994 and April 1996.

The channel closed down after two years when Orbit cancelled its 10-year contract over the BBC’s broadcast of a Panorama programme alleging human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia.

A group chaired by a cousin of Saudi King Fahd owned Orbit. After closure, some journalists went on to set up Qatar-based Al Jazeera TV.

By Walè Azeez

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