London: A new Arabic-language television news channel from British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) will cover events in the Arab world “without fear or favour,” as it seeks to set itself apart from other government-financed broadcasters in the region, Nigel Chapman, director of the BBC World Service, said on Monday.
BBC Arabic TV plans to start broadcasting 12 hours a day of news and current affairs shows to West Asia, the Gulf and North Africa on 11 March, followed by round-the-clock programming by the end of the year, BBC said as it detailed plans for the channel.
As satellite broadcasters have proliferated across the Arab world, new ventures financed by Western governments — including Al-Hurra, which is financed by Washington, and France 24 Arabic — have struggled to compete against channels with stronger regional roots, such as Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya.
Chapman said BBC Arabic TV would distinguish itself through its editorial independence, as well as with a broader approach to world events.
“In the case of Al-Hurra, it’s an American perspective,” he said. “In the case of France 24, it’s French. In the case of BBC Arabic Television, it’s an international perspective."
The new channel, announced in 2005, will feature mostly news and current affairs programming. It will include interview and debate programmes, and a discussion show which will allow participants to submit comments by email and telephone.
Arab critics have questioned whether the BBC can succeed in a region where Britain is sometimes viewed with animosity, given its involvement in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Chapman said the World Service’s radio broadcasts, which have been beamed into the region in Arabic since the 1930s, had established BBC’s credibility.
Faisal Abbas, media editor at Asharq al-Awsat, an Arabic language newspaper based in London, said the new channel could be handicapped by broadcasts that will be limited initially to half a day. “We’re not in 1998, we’re in 2008,” he said. “Now, you have many str-ong media brands in the reg-ion. It’s not only about content, it’s also about practicality.”
BBC tried to break into the Arabic language television market from 1994 to 1996 with a Saudi partner, Orbit Communications. But editorial disagreements over BBC coverage of the Saudi royal family put an end to the venture.
This time, BBC is going it alone. Like other World Service ventures, BBC Arabic Television will have no advertising. The £25 million (Rs200 crore) annual budget will come from a government grant, with money freed in part by the closure of several World Service radio channels in Eastern Europe.
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