Tuesday, October 25, 2005

BBC to launch Arabic 24-hour news channel

World Service 'set for Arabic TV'

The BBC World Service is expected to confirm plans later to set up a 24-hour television news channel in Arabic. It would be the first publicly funded international television service launched by the BBC.

The corporation is expected to close 10 foreign language services, mostly in central Europe, to pay for it.

The World Service provides news in English and 42 other languages and is funded by a parliamentary grant, administered by the Foreign Office. The worldwide audience for the English language service is estimated at 45 million.

BBC Radio Five Live said the Arabic channel was expected to cost about £20m and could lead to 200 post closures. The World Service is believed to be informing staff of the plans and is expected to make an official announcement later on Tuesday.

BBC media correspondent Rebecca Jones told Five Live the plans would be "the biggest change in the World Service for 70 years".

"In many parts of the world, especially the Middle East, the number of people watching television is rising, while radio audiences are falling, so the BBC believes the World Service must change focus to maintain and enhance its reach and reputation," she said. She said the expected Arabic channel would "compete directly" with other news networks, including Qatar-based al-Jazeera.

The BBC has previously entered the Arabic television market, in conjunction with the Saudi-owned company Orbit, but it foundered in 1996 following issues of editorial control. That same year al-Jazeera launched, based in Qatar, and recruited a number of former BBC Arabic staff members.

The station is best known outside of the Arab world for carrying exclusive al-Qaeda messages. Al-Jazeera is launching a new 24-hour English-language channel - al-Jazeera International - next spring.


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