Vet set for top job at BBC’s Arab web

Negm to guide Beeb into highly-competitive marketplace

LONDON — Salah Negm has seen it all. With a career spanning three decades that has taken him from his native Cairo through to his new appointment as head of the BBC’s Arab news satcaster set to launch in 2007, the 50-year-old has witnessed the explosion of Arab satellite TV and proliferation of media outlets.

He still speaks with youthful enthusiasm when asked about his new challenge. “It’s the best job in broadcasting for me,” he says.

 After studying mass communications at Cairo U. and Florida State, the married father-of-four worked his way up the ladder, starting out as a reporter on Radio Cairo.

Tours of duty with Radio Netherlands Intl. soon saw him land his first job with the BBC’s Arabic radio service in the 1980s. It was a time of great scoops for Arab journalists, as civil war raged in Lebanon, Iraq and Iran were at war and the first moves toward peace between Israel and the Palestinian territories.

For Negm, the experiences have steeled him for the challenge of helming the Beeb’s first publicly funded international satcaster.

“It’s a chance to use my experience as a journalist to offer audiences throughout the Middle East a news service in Arabic informed by the BBC’s values of accuracy, independence and impartiality,” he says.  

The Beeb’s service will enter a highly-competitive marketplace, with Qatar-based Al-Jazeera and Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya already well-established with auds in the Mideast and beyond.

Not that Negm is scared by his rivals. After all, he has worked for both of them. As the chief news editor at Al-Jazeera in its trailblazing first years, he reportedly fell out with some of the satcaster’s top brass after the station took a more radical stance post-9/11.

He left to join bitter rival Al-Arabiya as head of news gathering, where he stayed until his new position at the BBC was announced in March.

“I don’t underestimate the challenge or the competition in a crowded media marketplace,” Negm says. “But BBC Arabic will be the only major international news provider in the Middle East offering a service in Arabic across TV, radio and online.”