With BBC Arabic Television launching on Tuesday, the British broadcasting icon is making its second foray into the Arabic-speaking world.
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) launches its new Arabic-language cable and satellite television channel on Tuesday, laying down the gauntlet to existing pan-Arab stations.
In its second attempt to enter the Middle East market, BBC Arabic Television will face intense competition from Qatar-based Al-Jazeera and Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya, which recently celebrated its fifth birthday.
The new channel will be the BBC's first publicly funded international television service and comes 11 years after its first TV foray into the region ended in failure over editorial rows with the channel's Saudi backers.
It will initially be on air for 12 hours per day before switching to a 24-hour operation later this year.
The venture -- initially costing 19 million pounds (24.8 million euros, 37.7 million dollars), rising to 25 million pounds when it becomes round-the-clock -- aims to provide the Middle East's only "tri-media" (TV, radio and online) service by building on the BBC's existing Arabic radio and Internet services.
To pay for the channel, the BBC axed more than 200 jobs in 10 mainly eastern European language services under a radical overhaul of World Service radio.
The new television channel "will reflect the breadth of the Arab audience's interests," BBC Arabic head Hosam El Sokkari said, announcing the launch this month.
He claimed it would better serve Arab audiences than Al-Jazeera.
"It can be their ears and eyes -- not just in the countries where people live, but throughout the region and around the rest of the world," he said.
Salah Negm, the news editor for BBC Arabic, told the BBC website: "There are only two reliable 24-hour news channels in the region and the perception is that they are representing certain points of views and certain governments.
"For a viewer in the Middle East, they have to watch the two stations and draw their own conclusions. I think the BBC can come along and immediately offer a service that the audience know and can trust."
BBC Arabic Television will be free-to-air for anyone with a satellite or cable connection in north Africa, the Middle East and the Gulf.
The director of BBC World Service, Nigel Chapman, said coverage was being boosted in the Middle East because satellite news channels had re-shaped the media landscape there.
"There is no doubt that television is now the dominant medium for consuming news in the region," he said.
"Without a BBC news presence in Arabic on television, we run the risk of always being second to other television sources, despite the quality of our radio and new media offers."
Chapman said he hoped to attract 20 million viewers per week by 2010 and 35 million users per week for all three services.
Unlike BBC television, which is funded by a yearly licence fee from all domestic users, BBC World Service broadcasting receives a direct grant from the government, although it maintains editorial independence.
For 2007-8, its grant from the Foreign Office totalled 252 million pounds, rising to 271 million pounds by 2010-11.
Date created : 2008-03-10