BBC Arabic to launch March 11

The BBC’s Arabic language news channel starts transmissions a week from today, on March 11. What will it achieve?

BBC Arabic enters what is without doubt one of the most crowded news-markets on the planet on March 11. What it has going for it is the BBC’s name as a trusted voice, thanks to generations of listeners who once relied on the BBC’s radio voice in the region. The BBC’s TV news channel will be available over the Middle East on Arabsat, Nilesat and Eutelsat.

It will start with 12 hours-a-day broadcasting initially, growing to 24/7 coverage “in the summer”. It is promising contributions from 250 correspondents “reporting from 72 bureaux around the world” although to be fair this is the entire BBC news-gathering compliment, and few of them will be Arabic speakers.

Its on-screen talent includes some well-known faces from the region, including Rania Al Alattar (pictured above); Fida Bassil; Tony El-Khoury; Dalia Mohamed; Osman Ayfarah; Hasan Muawad; Lina Musharbash; and Dina Waqqaf.

Hosam el Sokkari, the head of BBC Arabic, drew attention to the BBC’s trusted name in the region in his comments, saying: “The BBC is uniquely experienced in bringing the key stories of the region and the world to Arab audiences. Because BBC World Service has a genuinely international perspective, it is also best placed to take the views, key issues and real lives of our Arab audiences to a wider global audience.”

Time will tell. However, 10 years ago when the BBC last tried to win friends and influence people in the region it was forced to withdraw (from the Orbit platform) after a few candid remarks about the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The closure of that service provided the skilled talent to start Al Jazeera. This time it is likely that they’ll be more prudent in their commentary, and will also be mindful of the dozen or more rival news channels all of which have a strong and loyal following.