BBC World Service set to fund Arabic TV channel

By Caitlin Pike

The BBC World Service will fund a new Arabic television channel to
rival Al Jazeera, despite receiving no extra cash from the Government.

Press Gazette has learned from an industry insider that the new
Arabic channel will be paid for by reallocating the World Service
budget – taking funds away from some of its lower-profile foreign
services and investing them in the new channel.

In the Green
Paper on the future of the BBC, published in spring 2005, the
Government supports the corporation’s ambition to expand its
international role, making it fully tri-media, including more
television and internet services.

But it was also made clear there would be no additional funding.

The
Green Paper states: “Any move to a tri-media offering would need to be
financed by a strategic reprioritisation by the World Service from
within its existing funding. Initial work suggests that resources could
be freed up in either of two ways: efficiencies from better use of
resources and a reduction in the number of vernacular radio services on
offer.

“It will be for the World Service, in discussion with the
Foreign Office, to decide whether and how expenditure could be
reprioritised to allow for the development of vernacular television.”

The
insider told Press Gazette: “An announcement is about to be made by the
World Service that will confirm they are going reduce some of their
smaller radio services and foreign language projects and this will
partly enable them to go ahead with the Arabic TV channel.”A BBC World
Service spokeswoman said: “The BBC believes there is an urgent need for
an Arabic television service and regrets that the Government decided it
would not wholly fund the new service proposed by the BBC in the 2004
spending round. The BBC is currently considering what can be done from
within existing resources and looks forward to progressing discussions
with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office about the most appropriate
delivery methods for content and the range of language services for the
future.”

BBC Worldwide, a commercial arm of the BBC, ran an Arabic television service but this was closed in 1996.

The
Foreign Office confirmed that the BBC was looking at how the Arabic TV
service could be set up, but declined to comment on its involvement in
the plans.

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