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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 October 2005, 16:47 GMT 17:47 UK
World Service confirms Arabic TV
World Service director Nigel Chapman
Mr Chapman said research showed "strong demand" for the channel
The BBC World Service is to launch an Arabic television news channel in 2007, the corporation has confirmed.

The channel will initially broadcast 12 hours a day and will be the BBC's first publicly funded global TV service.

It is part of a 30m restructuring of the World Service and is being funded by the closure of 10 foreign language services - with the loss of 218 jobs.

The NUJ and Bectu unions have condemned news of the closures and job losses as a "bitter" and "devastating" blow.

The World Service provides news in English and 42 other languages and is funded by a Foreign Office grant.

The 2005/2006 grant is 239m and the Arabic service is expected to cost 19m a year in operating costs.

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The World Service said broadcasts in Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Greek, Hungarian, Kazakh, Polish, Slovak, Slovene and Thai languages would end by March 2006.

BBC World Service Director Nigel Chapman said many of those services resulted from the Second World War.

"It is acknowledged that their presence has contributed to the building of freedoms now enjoyed by their citizens. We believe this will be a lasting legacy."

But he said many national and local services "which subscribe to similar values as the BBC" had since been started in Europe.

Broadcasting union Bectu said: "While we would normally welcome the BBC's expansion into Arabic TV without hesitation, we cannot ignore the potential threat of hundreds of compulsory redundancies."

It said the decision to move funding from European services to Arabic TV appeared to be political, warning: "The decision will create a perception abroad that the BBC World Service is working to a government agenda."

But Mr Chapman denied this, saying: "We have no political motive. Our job is to be a broadcaster."

Ahead of the confirmation of job losses, National Union of Journalists (NUJ) general secretary Jeremy Dear also condemned the cuts.

"It would be a bitter blow to BBC World Service staff and a step which has the potential to cause massive damage to Britain's influence in a significant part of New Europe," he said.

'Strong demand'

Meanwhile, Mr Chapman said research had shown there was a strong demand for an Arabic TV service in the Middle East.

BBC World Service is already the most successful, trusted and respected voice in the Middle East
Nigel Chapman
BBC World Service director

"BBC World Service is already the most successful, trusted and respected voice in the Middle East with more than 60 years experience of broadcasting in the Arabic language on radio, and more recently and successfully, online," he said.

"The changes add up to the biggest transformation of BBC World Service that has been undertaken - and one of the most far-reaching - since the BBC began international broadcasting more than 70 years ago."

It is estimated that 148 jobs will be created by the new Arabic channel.

Overall, 236 positions will be closed as a result of overall restructuring and 201 will be created through new investment.

Arabic competition

The changes to the service follow the government's review of the BBC's Charter in March 2004.

"We believe the proposed changes will enable BBC World Service to maintain and build on its pre-eminent position as the world's leading international broadcaster in the multi-media age for years to come," Nigel Chapman said.

The World Service has 149 million weekly listeners and over 20 million monthly unique online users.

The BBC has previously entered the Arabic television market, in conjunction with the Saudi-owned company Orbit, but it foundered in 1996 following issues of editorial control.

That same year al-Jazeera launched, based in Qatar, and recruited a number of former BBC Arabic staff members.

Al-Jazeera is launching a new 24-hour English-language channel - al-Jazeera International - next spring.


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