BBC Arabic prepares for major restructuring

The move could result in major cutbacks for BBC Arabic radio, with staff reduced 50%.
Tuesday 20/02/2018
A BBC umbrella protects broadcast equipment outside the BBC’s New Broadcasting House in London. (Reuters)
A BBC umbrella protects broadcast equipment outside the BBC’s New Broadcasting House in London. (Reuters)

LONDON - The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is restructuring its Arabic-language service — BBC Arabic — with news operations being transferred to Egypt and Jordan, employees said.

A BBC Arabic staff member, speaking to The Arab Weekly on condition of anonymity, confirmed that the restructuring process would see programmes such as “Alam Al-Zahira” (“The World This Afternoon”) and “Al-Alam Haza Al’Masaa” (“The World This Evening”) produced in the region.

Changes could affect other BBC Arabic television programmes, reports said, with “Hadith Al-Sa’a” (“Talk of the Hour”) and “Ana Shahid” (“I am the Witness”) suspended and Arabic-language radio news bulletins and other essential programming transferred to Cairo and Amman.

“The aim is to save money while preserving the level of news coverage,” the staff member said.

Media sources in London said the move could result in major cutbacks for BBC Arabic radio, with staff reduced 50%. It comes as part of a broader attempt by the news organisation to cut costs. BBC News is reportedly facing $112 million in cuts by 2020.

The shake-up, expected to take place by the end of the year, raised concerns about the BBC’s coverage in the Middle East, with some questioning whether the organisation can preserve its neutral outlook while broadcasting directly from the region.

The BBC has offices in Cairo and Amman and an office was recently established in Tunis to support the BBC’s North African coverage. BBC Arabic is advertising three jobs, two in London and another in Tunis.

Many BBC programmes are already produced in the region, including “BBC Extra” in Beirut.

While BBC Arabic will see staff numbers reduced in London, this will likely be offset by hires in the Middle East, with reports that 30 jobs are to be announced, mostly in Jordan and Cairo.

BBC Arabic is the company’s oldest non-English language services, delivering news, current affairs and documentaries across television, radio and digital platforms for a weekly audience of approximately 38 million. Its first Arabic-language radio was broadcast in January 1938.

The BBC Arabic website was launched in 1998 and BBC Arabic TV began ten years later.

Arabic is the only language, apart from English, that the BBC broadcasts reports in 24 hours a day across TV, radio and online platforms.

BBC Arabic witnessed an unprecedented 6-day walkout in 2011, after numerous employees filed complaints over mismanagement and salary discrepancies. At the time, BBC Arabic faced budget cuts of $3 million and saw more than 40 employees laid off.