The World Service may take on al-Jazeera
By Ronan McGreevy
THE BBC World Service is to examine setting up an Arabic 24-hour television station which would broadcast in the Middle East, at the request of the Government.
The new station which would have news, documentaries and discussion programmes would broadcast in opposition to Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based satellite station which currently has more than 40 million viewers in the Middle East.
The United States already has its own Arabic language news channel in the Middle East. Al Hurra was set up in February to counter a perceived anti-Western bias in much of the Arabic media, but has struggled to build an audience.
The Foreign Office funds the BBC World Service and has asked the BBC to examine the feasibility of another 24-hour station.
A BBC spokesman said that the proposal, which is noncommercial, is “under discussion as part of the Foreign Office and the Treasury’s spending review process”.
The station could be modelled on BBC World, the corporations’s 24-hour international news channel, and would have initial costs of £28 million a year.
The Times says the BBC is considering creating a 24-hour Arabic TV channel. Let's hope it does -- the BBC is the only Western institution that has the credibility and professionalism to add something meaningful to Arabic-language television. It's worth noting that the BBC had previously experimented with an Arabic language station, but it was closed when its Saudi backers withdrew funding after critical coverage of the kingdom. Most of the BBC Arabic folk who were working then went on to found Al Jazeera.