Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Beeb Says "Bye-Bye, Bulgaria"


The BBC will soon shift resources away from southern and eastern Europe (and Thailand), where listenership has fallen and strategic needs lessened with the EU expansion. The new target market: the Arabic-speaking world through a dedicated, 12-hours-a-day TV station.

The BBC says it will end broadcasts in "Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Greek, Hungarian, Kazakh, Polish, Slovak, Slovene and Thai" in 2006. With peace firmly established in Europe, it's time to reach Arab audiences, according to BBC World Service Director Nigel Chapman:

"BBC World Service is already the most successful, trusted and respected voice in the Middle East with more than 60 years experience of broadcasting in the Arabic language on radio, and more recently and successfully, online.

"The BBC Arabic Television Service will build on this legacy by offering trusted and accurate news with an international agenda.

"It would mean the BBC will be the only major broadcaster who will provide a tri-media service in Arabic to the Middle East – using TV, radio and online for sharing views and perspectives across the region and the wider world.

"Our research suggests there is strong demand for an Arabic Television service from the BBC in the Middle East."

Regardless of what the Beeb's research might show, there's a strong strategic need for Britain to have a bigger Middle East presence—much as the BBC might deny it:

Hosam el-Sokkari, head of the BBC's Arabic Service, said there was no political motivation behind the new Arab channel. It will be "there to inform, educate and entertain, not to take part in the political process," he told reporters.

The BBC's Arabic Service already has reporters in every Arabic-speaking country. Its radio broadcasts draw some 12 million listeners each week; its Arabic online service,, attracts millions of people a month. But in places like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and North Africa, where the BBC cannot use FM radio broadcasting, it faces tough competition from satellite television companies.

Mr. El-Sokkari is almost certainly being disingenuous; he must know the BBC needs a seat at the satellite-TV table in the Middle East to maintain its brand, and that even informing, educating and entertaining the millions of Middle Easterners who have recently gained access to outside media is a political act.

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