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

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.”

Google fined $1.7bn for search ad blocks

Updated 20 March 2019

Google fined $1.7bn for search ad blocks

  • Google received three fines in the past two years
  • EU Commission says Google has been blocking competitors for the past ten years

BRUSSELS: Google was fined $1.7 billion on Wednesday for blocking rival online search advertisers, the third large European Union antitrust penalty for the Alphabet business in two only years.

The European Commission, which said the fine accounted for 1.29 percent of Google’s turnover in 2018, said in a statement that the anti-competitive practices had lasted a decade.

“Google has cemented its dominance in online search adverts and shielded itself from competitive pressure by imposing anti-competitive contractual restrictions on third-party websites,” European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said.

The case concerned websites, such as of newspaper or travel sites, with a search function that produces search results and search adverts. Google’s AdSense for Search provided such search adverts.

The misconduct included stopping publishers from placing any search adverts from competitors on their search results pages, forcing them to reserve the most profitable space on their search results pages for Google’s adverts and a requirement to seek written approval from Google before making changes to the way in which any rival adverts were displayed.

The AdSense advertising case was triggered by a complaint from Microsoft in 2010. Both companies subsequently dropped complaints against each other in 2016.

Last year, Vestager imposed a record $4.92 billion fine on Google for using its popular Android mobile operating system to block rivals. This followed a $2.74 billion fine in June 2017 for hindering rivals of shopping comparison websites.

Google is now trying to comply with the order to ensure a level playing field with proposals to boost price comparison rivals and prompt Android users to choose their preferred browsers and search apps. Critics however are still not happy.