National Geographic looks for Middle East partners

The documentary and exploration channel hopes its latest season of programming will encourage regional governments and filmmakers to create new programmes on the Middle East.

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By  John Irish Published  April 18, 2004

National Geographic Channel, the exploration and documentary broadcaster, is encouraging regional governments, organisations and young filmmakers to join with the channel in an attempt to raise global awareness on the region. Speaking to the press today (April 18), David Gunson, vice president, programming and broadcasting, National Geographic Channel Asia, claimed his network needed to increase content on the region “We have nothing coming up on the Middle East at present, but with global interest in the Middle East growing rapidly we hope regional governments will sign up with us to create documentaries on the region,” explained Gunson. Citing recent positive experiences with the Taiwanese and Singaporean governments, Gunson indicated a main reason the channel’s Middle East content was still limited, was down to its multi-language approach, something that does not always appeal to viewers. However, it remains unclear whether National Geographic will provide material or work with Al Jazeera’s upcoming cultural channel. In March, Al Jazeera spokesperson, Jihad Ballout, confirmed the news organisation was “in discussions with National Geographic.” However, according to Gunson, although his channel would be interested in working with regional partners, as of yet nothing had been agreed with Al Jazeera. In recent years, National Geographic’s coverage of the region included Inside Mecca, Mohammed: Legacy of a Prophet and more recently Egypt: Secret Chambers revealed. While more programmes on Egypt are set to air in the coming year, National Geographic’s first attempts to break into the region began in 2003 with the launch of 24-hour Arabic subtitling. “National Geographic is one of the world’s strongest media brands and in the Middle East [it] has continued to achieve a loyal following,” said Gunson. With the UK-based Travel channel launching in April and promising to add more local based material, National Geographic also hopes to tap into a rich pool of Middle Eastern producers whose talents are often neglected. “We are like the non-fiction movie channel, that’s why people will come to us,” explained Gunson. Travel Channel is hopeful advertising streams from the Gulf will be sufficient to sustain it within the Middle East. In a similar way, National Geographic’s ability in attracting international organisations to sponsor its programmes could help it benefit from a region desperate to alter its worldwide image. “The recently produced Marco Polo series was co-funded by Cathay Pacific and following its success, they are looking to sign up with us for new projects. These are positive signs.” Meanwhile viewers across the region are in for a fascinating series of programmes in the coming months. Among them will be a look into the pride of lions, Ultimate Enemies and a timely 60th anniversary documentary looking at the turning pioint of World War II, D-Day: Men and Machines. The channel, which is distributed in the GCC, Yemen, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, is available as part of the ART basic tier.

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