BBC learning Arabic

U.K.-funded news net aims to rival Al-Jazeera

LONDON — The BBC on Tuesday announced the launch of an Arabic-language TV news channel in 2007 to rival Al-Jazeera.

Coin for the venture — some £19 million annually ($34 million) — will come from culling 10 foreign-language radio stations across Europe and Asia.

BBC World Service foreign-language services in Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Greek, Hungarian, Kazakh, Polish, Slovak, Slovene and Thai will end by next March.

“Without a BBC news presence in Arabic,” World Service topper Nigel Chapman said, “we run the risk of being second to television, despite the quality of our new radio and new-media offerings.”

The channel will be funded directly by the U.K. government via the World Service’s so-called grant-in-aid that pays for all BBC World Service activities to the tune of $430 million per year.

The Arabic-language news station will be available free to all cable and satellite subscribers in the region.

“This will enable it to be seen easily in countries where the growth of satellite television has been fastest and where local regulation prevents BBC radio being heard clearly enough to make a significant impact,” Chapman said.

The BBC launched a commercial Arabic channel in 1994 but abandoned it two years later following an editorial dispute with its Saudi-backed distributor, Orbit, over criticism of the Saudi regime.

The new web, which will broadcast initially for 12 hours a day, would provide trustworthy, independent news, said Chapman, but critics maintain the BBC’s launch is not unconnected with Western foreign policy objectives in the Middle East.

To coincide with the channel’s launch, the BBC will open new bureaus in the Middle East, including a Cairo office and news centers in other Arab capitals to be announced.

Chapman said the World Service had ambitions to run TV services in Persian, Spanish and Hindi, but a lack of coin will keep these projects on the back burner for the time being.

The World Service also intends to beef up its presence in the U.S., Russia and South Asia by increasing new-media activities.

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