BBC Arabic on recruitment drive to boost ‘impartial voice’

“We have no political masters who say ‘do this, do that, don’t do this, don’t do that’,” says Samir Farah, head of BBC Arabic. (BBC)
Updated 02 February 2017
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BBC Arabic on recruitment drive to boost ‘impartial voice’

JEDDAH: BBC Arabic is recruiting more than 50 additional staff as it looks to boost audiences in the Arabian Gulf and North Africa, a senior executive has said.
The BBC’s World Service is currently undergoing its biggest expansion since the 1940s, thanks to a funding injection of £289 million ($360 million) announced by the UK government in 2015.
Samir Farah, head of BBC Arabic, said this would also involve a massive expansion of the service he manages.
“What BBC Arabic is doing is using this additional investment to reach groups of audiences we have not been able to reach to the extent we would like,” he told Arab News.
BBC Arabic produces output across TV, radio and online, and Farah said it plans to better serve people in the Gulf and North Africa, as well as youth audiences and women.
Around 52 additional staff will join the BBC Arabic team, with 33 based in the UK and the rest in the Middle East and North Africa, Farah said. The service already employs “hundreds” of staff in the region, with two key bureaus in Cairo and Beirut.
“We are opening a BBC Arabic bureau in Tunis, and that should be operational this year. And that will help us to better serve North African audiences,” Farah said.
Despite the planned expansion in Tunis, BBC Arabic has no concrete plans to launch a permanent bureau in Saudi Arabia — although this is something Farah would like to see happen.
“As soon as the opportunity presents itself, this will happen, because this is what we want to happen. But we need to be able to operate in a certain way,” he said.
“We do not necessarily feel at the moment that we can have the extent of freedom of investigation and expression in Saudi Arabia that we can have possibly, say, in London.”
BBC Arabic’s TV channel pulls in about 28 million viewers, and with TV and radio the total audience is about 38 million, Farah said.
New content will include TV shows tailor-made for the Gulf and North Africa, and an expansion of its digital operations.
“News is going mobile,” said Farah. “This is the fastest increase in the Arab world. It has not caught up with television yet, but it is rapidly. So we want to be there when it happens. We have already started but we want to do a better job and to reach a wider audience.”
The wider BBC World Service funding boost includes adding 11 new language services in a drive to reach millions more people.
Some viewed the move as a play to boost the UK’s “soft power” abroad, although Farah said this was not an objective held by the BBC.
“In my 20 years in the BBC I have never been in a meeting where we discussed soft power. If this is a byproduct of what we do, then fine. But this is not what we set out to do,” he said.
“The UK government may think that there is soft power benefits as a byproduct of what the BBC does, but the BBC’s aim is to have an impartial coverage of world issues, including the Arab world.”
BBC Arabic vies for audiences with the likes of Al- Jazeera, Al-Arabiya News Channel and numerous other media outlets, many of which are government-funded.
But Farah said that BBC Arabic offers an “impartial voice” that is independent of any political interference.
“We are providing a voice that does not exist in the same way in that region. We are distinctive in the sense that we are independent, completely independent,” he said.
“We are challenging in the issues that we tackle and the questions that we ask. We have no political masters who say ‘do this, do that, do not do this, do not do that.’ And we very strongly believe that the region needs this voice.”
But the scourge of “fake news” is also on the media executive’s mind. There has been an apparent upsurge of exaggerated and downright false stories appearing online — which some have even claimed helped sway the result of the recent US election.
Farah said this is an issue faced by all mainstream media outlets — but that it can be tackled by churning out more quality, investigative journalism with good ethical standards.
“If we cannot control fake news, then surely we can control what we can control — which is our own news,” he said.
“Let us do our job in the best possible way that we can, and fake news presumably will take care of itself.”


Qatari media incites boycott of Bahrain’s Palestinian workshop, but ignores leaks about own regime attendance

Updated 26 May 2019
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Qatari media incites boycott of Bahrain’s Palestinian workshop, but ignores leaks about own regime attendance

  • Experts predict that comments come as a result of Iranian and Qatari media propagating a negative view of the workshop, which is being falsely portrayed as an effort to force Palestinians to sell-away their right to a state
  • Dubbed “Peace for Prosperity,” the conference is expected to bring together leaders from several governments, civil society and the business sector

DUBAI: Qatari media has been upping the ante with articles and opinion pieces shedding negative light on the US-lead “Peace to Prosperity” economic workshop in Bahrain, which led to Palestinian officials to have a negative view of the summit and urge other Arab states of boycotting it.

“We call on the countries that have agreed to attend the Bahrain workshop to reevaluate their decision,” the secretary of the PLO’s executive committee, Saeb Erekat, told Arab News in an interview yesterday. 

Experts predict that comments come as a result of Iranian and Qatari media propagating a negative view of the workshop, which is being falsely portrayed as an effort to force Palestinians to sell-away their right to a state. 

“‘A two-day international Peace to Prosperity economic workshop in Bahrain undermines #Palestinians and their calls for sovereignty’” read a tweet from Qatar-owned English version of The New Arab, a newspaper based in London. 

Another tweet by the same news website read: “In-depth: ‘Palestinian political and religious leaders have slammed Jared Kushner’s so-called Deal of the Century Israel-Palestine peace plan, due to be revealed in part in a controversial Bahrain summit‘”

While a Twitter poll from senior Al Jazeera New channel anchor Jamal Rayyan asked “Do you support Saudi Arabia, UAE and Israel’s organization of an economic conference in Bahrain to finance the deal of the century and the liquidation of the Palestinian cause?”

The results showed 71 percent against while 29 percent for.

Also, articles from Middle East Eye and Middle East Monitor – both Qatari-backed and pro-Hamas and pro-Muslim Brotherhood – have exaggerated the ‘failings’ of the workshop in Manama.

But while Qatari media has aggressively pushed against the Bahain summit, Israel-based Haaretz has published an article claiming that Qatar plans to attend and participate in the conference, which takes place on June 25 and 26.

No reports of Qatar confirming or denying the Haaretz article were found by Arab News.

Dubbed “Peace for Prosperity,” the conference is expected to bring together leaders from several governments, civil society and the business sector.

Trump’s office said the conference was a “pivotal opportunity... to share ideas, discuss strategies, and galvanize support for potential economic investments and initiatives that could be made possible by a peace agreement.”

The Palestinians see this as offering financial rewards in exchange for accepting ongoing Israeli occupation.

“Attempts at promoting an economic normalization of the Israeli occupation of Palestine will be rejected,” Erekat said.

(With AFP)