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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 July 2005, 11:23 GMT 12:23 UK
'The biggest challenge of all'
Jeremy Bowen was recently appointed BBC Middle East Editor - a newly-created role to enhance coverage of the region. Here he looks ahead to the challenges it poses.

Jeremy Bowen
Bowen's role will allow him to focus on the entire Middle East region

No journalistic challenge is bigger at the moment than reporting the Middle East. Nowhere is more newsworthy, or more important, for the peace of the world.

The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a major turning point.

It will be as important as the other big moments in the last century or so: 1918, when Britain and France carved up the Ottoman Empire between them; 1948, when Israel was created; and 1967, when the current shape of the Arab-Israeli conflict was created.

I have kept in touch with what has been going on there since I finished my time as Middle East Correspondent in 2000.

I have been back to do documentaries, to present Breakfast and to do news reporting. I also did research trips to Jordan, Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian territories in 2002 when I was writing a book about the 1967 War.

I have been in Jerusalem so often since I stopped living there, that I have never bothered to find a new dentist in London.

More or less every six months, I have been able to go back to Dr Kurer, near the King David Hotel, for an examination, before I check in again with Ibrahim, the master of ceremonies in the bar of the American Colony.

'Intimidating' region

My new job is to try to add value to what the correspondents in the area produce. The BBC has a very strong team in the Middle East, and their job is to tell the story of what is happening.

Mine is to add some context about how we got to where we are, and to explain how the day's events fit into the big picture.

The idea is to do more to increase our audience's understanding of an area that can seem intimidating and complicated.

Our correspondents already do a great job explaining what is happening and why.

This is not going to be an easy job. Everything the BBC does from the Middle East is scrutinised minutely

But as I have found myself many times since I first reported from the Middle East in 1990, sometimes it is hard to look at the horizon when you are stuck at a roadblock with a tape and a deadline.

I will be based in London, but will travel to the Middle East probably a couple of times a month. At first glance, basing a journalist covering the Middle East in London might seen wrong.

I think it will be fine. Journalists based in Jerusalem tend to concentrate on the Palestinians and the Israelis. Those based in Cairo or Beirut look more at Arab countries. Baghdad has its own special difficulties.

I need to be able to look at all aspects of the Middle East. London, anyway, is a big Middle Eastern centre.

Plenty of people who are important and interesting pass through, and most Middle Eastern capitals are no more than five or six hours away.

Remaining impartial

My debut will probably come at the time of the main Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in August.

The conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians is the central event in the Middle East.

Many things come from it, and for more than 50 years it has infected the political, social and economic life of the region.

Of course, it is a major priority for the BBC. But it is not the only one. I am going to do more in the rest of the region.

Jeremy Bowen pictured in 1991
Middle East expert Bowen reported on the first Gulf War

For very good reasons, the correspondents in Jerusalem have not had many chances to get away from the conflict on their doorsteps since the second intifada started in 2000.

It was hard enough before that. Because I will not be tied to any particular place, I will be able to get out and about more.

This is not going to be an easy job. Everything the BBC does from the Middle East is scrutinised minutely by supporters of all the different parties.

We have to stay impartial, but also need to explain what is going on.

That means that at times I will be making judgements about stories which might not make easy listening for some people.

Every journalist who works in the Middle East can expect some criticism. But as long as what we report is fair and true we have nothing to worry about.

Bowen is new Middle East editor
20 Jun 05 |  About BBC News
Jeremy Bowen
12 Jul 05 |  Profiles



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