Greg Dyke on Broadcasting

News services are talking the same language the world over

While many parts of the BBC are cutting back without knowing where the money they are saving is going to be spent in the future, that is not true of the BBC World Service. Hidden away in the middle of the Government's Green Paper on the future of the BBC was a suggestion that the World Service needed to be completely re-vamped for the 21st century. The BBC agrees with this, and as a result has decided on a major change in direction.

While many parts of the BBC are cutting back without knowing where the money they are saving is going to be spent in the future, that is not true of the BBC World Service. Hidden away in the middle of the Government's Green Paper on the future of the BBC was a suggestion that the World Service needed to be completely re-vamped for the 21st century. The BBC agrees with this, and as a result has decided on a major change in direction.

Given events of recent years, the BBC and the Foreign Office, who jointly fund the World Service, both agree that the BBC most urgently needs to develop new services for the Middle East, and in particular services aimed at the Islamic world. The BBC has recognised this for some time and has long wanted to start a 24-hour television news service in Arabic; its problem is that it hasn't got the necessary funds to do it. It is now planning to fund the new Arabic service by cutting the number of indigenous language radio services it broadcasts from the current 43 down to about 30.

In particular, many of the BBC's Eastern European services, set up in the days of Communism, are likely to be axed on the basis that countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic are now part of the European Community, and no longer need BBC radio services. The BBC believes that the money spent on broadcasting indigenous language services to these countries would be better spent on the Middle East.

Now, this is likely to be incredibly controversial, as whenever a national service has been closed down in the past there have always been MPs willing to make the special case why that particular service should be preserved. But given the Government's steer in the Green Paper, the current leadership in the World Service has, quite logically, decided that the Islamic world is now the priority. It wants to spend £20m a year on a 24-hour Arabic news service.

But what is odd is that, while the BBC is planning a new television news service in Arabic, the Arabic 24-hour news service al-Jazeera, whose main backer is the Emir of Qatar, will this autumn launch a new international news service in English. This will be particularly controversial as one of its four centres will be based in Washington DC, and large parts of George Bush's United States regard al-Jazeera as the broadcasting version of al-Qa'ida.

This is particularly ironic given that in parts of the Arab world al-Jazeera is regarded with deep suspicion. When I appeared on a platform with the man who runs al-Jazeera earlier this year at a conference in Abu Dhabi, I was surprised to find that some in the audience were very critical of the broadcaster. Their objection was that al-Jazeera regularly screened interviews with Israeli politicians and were too soft on them when they did.

And only last week the Iranian government closed down the Tehran offices of al-Jazeera, blaming it for stirring up ethnic unrest when what it had actually done was broadcast the story that there had been three days of rioting in Khuzestan province - a fact the Iranian government didn't want reported.

In truth, al-Jazeera is increasingly keen to be seen as an unbiased international broadcaster. It has been recruiting Western journalists from broadcasters such as the BBC, ITN and APTN to man its new service and hopes to lose its reputation for having a bias towards the Arab world, a reputation that largely came about because al-Jazeera was chosen by al-Qa'ida as the place to send tapes from Osama Bin Laden. In fact, on its website al-Jazeera publishes a code of journalistic ethics that read remarkably like the BBC's own editorial guidelines.

The BBC isn't the only broadcasting organisation planning a 24-hour news service; they are popping up almost weekly across the world, but most are national services - in India alone there are now 12.

But for the BBC to be starting a new Arabic channel just as al-Jazeera is moving into the English-speaking world is a true sign of the importance that governments now place on international communications to the population at large.

BlackBerries are not the only fruit

The BBC could be in for a shock when Peter Fincham turns up for his first day as controller of BBC1 next month. What they'll discover is that he's a BlackBerry addict and finds it hard to go anywhere without his hand-held e-mail device.

To demonstrate his fanaticism, Tony Cohen, Peter's former boss at Fremantle Media, tells a wonderful story about taking Peter to a business conference in Chicago. As the two of them studied the case history of someone who had transformed the Mexican concrete industry - just the sort of thing that business schools believe will help Fremantle build its international television business - Peter suddenly became very agitated, slipped under the table and started shaking. Tony was concerned. He asked was Peter ill, and could he call for help? "No," replied Peter, "you can't do anything. It's just that I can't get a signal for my BlackBerry."

Peter's obsession with his electronic friend will be a problem at the BBC as the corporation is still largely, if not exclusively, a BlackBerry-free environment. And, of course, if you're not a BlackBerry user there could be nothing more maddening than finding the controller of BBC1 furtively glancing under the table at his latest e-mail in the middle of your presentation.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
News
UK Border Control
i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Front End Web Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: Our client help leading creative agencies ...

Christine McCleave: FP&A Analyst

£36,000 - £40,000: Christine McCleave: Are you looking for a new opportunity a...

Guru Careers: Web Developer / Javascript Developer

COMPETITIVE (DOE) + BENEFITS : Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Backend / HTML ...

Guru Careers: Marketing Communications Strategist / Marcomms Strategist

Competitive (DOE) + Bonus & Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn