BBC Announces Plans for Arabic TV Service

The BBC World Service (search) said Tuesday it would launch an Arabic TV and information service, and end radio services in 10 other languages to help pay for the venture.

The Arabic service will be the first publicly funded international television service launched by the British Broadcasting Corp. Its BBC World TV service is a commercial venture.

The BBC said it would end radio broadcasts in Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Greek, Hungarian, Kazakh, Polish, Slovak, Slovene and Thai by March. Online services in these languages will continue.

The World Service also plans to beef up its online content by providing more video news reporting and inviting readers to contribute their own material.

"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," BBC World Service Director Nigel Chapman said.

Al-Jazeera, the Arabic television service based in Qatar, announced in July that it planned to launch an English language service next year. This month, al-Jazeera said it had hired veteran British broadcaster David Frost, whose "Breakfast with Frost" program had been a Sunday fixture on BBC television.

The BBC has operated an Arabic radio service since 1938, making it the oldest of the language services. The BBC also operates an Arabic online service,

There is a clear demand for an Arabic television service from BBC, based on its widespread radio audience of 12 million weekly listeners, said Hosam El Sokkari, head of the BBC Arabic Service.

The Arabic channel initially will broadcast to a region stretching from western Africa to Iraq 12 hours a day via satellite and cable, and will employ 148 people.

The World Service now broadcasts in 43 languages, including the 10 to be dropped next year.

The BBC said 236 jobs will be cut as a result of the restructuring proposals, of which 218 are in the language services. About 200 new jobs will be created in new services.

"Many of the European services being closed had their roots in the Second World War and have served their audiences well right through the Cold War years," Chapman said.

"But Europe has changed, fundamentally, since the early '90s. Now the countries to which these languages are broadcast are members of the EU ( European Union), or are likely to join soon."

He said the need for BBC radio service has declined in most of these countries because of a growth of independent media and an increase in the number of English-speakers in the areas served.

But Thai press freedom organizations say the BBC Thai service is important in providing impartial information on violence in the south of the country, where there is an Islamic insurgency. They also say the government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has shown hostility to a critical press.

Chapman cited "relatively low market impact" as the reason for closing the Thai radio service.

BBC World Service receives its 239 million-pound ($427 million) budget from the British government's Foreign Office. All the new services — costing about 30 million pounds ($54 million) — will come from reallocations of this budget, Chapman said.