BBC wants piece of Middle East pie

The BBC is set to launch a $51 million Arab language channel to rival Arabic news networks.

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By  John Irish Published  June 24, 2004

Viewers across the Middle East are set to see yet more competition in the 24-hour news arena after the BBC hinted it was ready to launch an Arab-language television channel to rival Al Jazeera. The move follows a recent announcement in France that a global Gallic news channel is set to broadcast in 2005 and is also hot on the heels of the United States’ Al Hurra network launched at the end of 2003. According to reports in London’s Financial Times, the idea is fully backed by the Foreign office, which sees a British news channel as a counterweight to the Arab networks. “We know from our research that people trust the BBC brand and if more people could access it in their own language it would have a major impact," said Nigel Chapman, acting director of BBC World Service. The channel will have a US $51 million budget. The government is set to stump up the cash for the project, although approval from the Treasury has yet to be given. As for content, speaking to MPs, Chapman confirmed the station would be modeled around BBC World Service with a mix of news, discussion programmes and documentaries that would address “the dramatically changed media landscape in the Middle East.” The channel, which will air most of its programmes from London, will rely on staff based across the Middle East. This would not be the BBC's first foray into Arabic television. In 1996 BBC Arabic television closed down with many of its former staffers moving to Al Jazeera. However, in recent months, the broadcaster has attempted to raise its profile in the Arab World. The appointment last month of Hossam al Sokhary, the first Arab to head the BBC’s Arabic division, was seen as evidence of a change in strategy.

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