Tuesday, March 11, 2008

BBC Arabic launches but how will be it be percieved?

The BBC launches its Arabic service today,aimimg to compete directly with the likes of Al Jazeera.

Richard Sambrook writing on the BBC editors site says

Together with our radio and internet services in Arabic, it will form part of the first multimedia offer to the Arab world with programming scheduled across all three media - from the web, to radio, to TV.

Describing how

The Arab world is one of the most important regions of the world. Events there affect all of us in some way, from terrorism and war, to oil prices and trade. It is natural therefore that the World Service should seek to reach as many people as possible with its broadcasts - and today that means being on TV which is now the most used medium for news and information.

The service will be

distinctive for Arab audiences offering an international, not just Arab, perspective on events and an objective approach to issues. It will have the same standards and values as any other BBC service, reporting on the rest of the world as well as the region. In surveys in the region, 85% of those asked said they would watch the BBC channel. We hope some 35 million people will be using the service in 5 years time.

One problem that the service will have as Colin Crummy writes at Press Gazette is its percieved association with the British Government

But critics said the BBC would face scepticism in the region over its impartiality, with its funding of £25m a year coming from a Foreign Office grant-in-aid under particular scrutiny.
Dr Makram Khoury-Machool, a lecturer in media studies at Cambridge University, said the reaction would depend on how much it would be seen as “a mouthpiece for the British Government”.
Chapman said that audiences could make the distinction between what the BBC does and British Government policies, and that the BBC would report “without fear or favour” in the region

This perspective can be backed up by an editorial in Gulf news ( via Adrian Monck.In coming late to the party it asks

What can a British broadcaster do for a region that looks less and less towards the West for quality news programming, and has already found it in its own backyard?
In reality - for the vast majority of Arabs sitting in coffee shops on the streets of Cairo or Beirut - probably not very much



Anonymous said...

In a climate clouded by perceptions seen favouring the crown and the clans, the Arab audience will judge how BBC Arabic can rise up as conciliatory media that embodies certain idealized roles of media in the development and maintenance of a peaceful, democratic civil society.

A conciliatory media that works to offer in-depth and diverse perspectives with regard to issues of collective social importance. Cottle (2006), Lynch & McGoldrick, and Howard outline seven characteristics of media that best serve a conciliatory function: (1) “image to the invisible”; (2) “claims, reason and public argumentation”; (3) “public performance and credibility”; (4) “personal accounts and experimental testimonies”; (5) “reconciling the past, towards the present”; (6) “media reflexivity”; (7) “bearing witness in a globalized world”; (8) Avoiding victimizing and demonizing terminology; and (9) demonstrating a commitment towards finding mutually agreeable political solutions rather than enflaming existing hostilities.

Can the Arab viewer expect that BBC Arabic embodies such characteristics, and will work towards debunking cross-cultural stereotypes, inject a multicultural knowledge into the public sphere, and even work to produce reconciliation among cultural antagonists.

The big question here is whether BBC Arabic is up to the task?

Nigel Barlow said...

Thank you for your comment and drawing my attention to the work of Cottle et al.

I think the BBC has a difficult task in establishing itself as an impartial player in the Middle East.I maintain that its major obstacle is simply the fact that it is the BBC and rightly or wrongly it percieved as the government's mouth piece.

Anonymous said...

Arab information ministers recently adopted a "Charter of Principles" seeking to regulate satellite broadcasts, raising fears among media circles of a concerted move to muzzle stations. Some implications are already visible: Clock TV — owned by Lebanese and Libyan investors — canceled plans to start a new talk show called "Hour by Hour," after the Egyptian government objected to it, apparently because it feared it would become a new voice of criticism. "Free speech in Egypt will not be the only victim here, it's the whole Arab world," said Khairi Ramadan, who was to host "Hour by Hour," dubbing the charter a "huge step backward." "There are serious fears of this charter and the bigger danger is to come."

Launched in this backdrop in a week when the OIC summit is held, can BBC Arabic with its 70 years engagement with the Arab audience signal a huge step forward?

One wonders how in its interaction the OIC leaders it upholds, promotes and strengthens the cause of free speech through raising awareness and prompting mobilization?