BBC World Service launches its first Urdu tv show

Sairbeen team Irum Gillani, Nosheen Abbas, Aliya Nazki and Tabinda Kokab will present Sairbeen

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It's rare to see an all-women newsreading team on a UK bulletin - it's even rarer in Pakistan.

The country's news landscape is dominated by male anchors, "heavy-duty, well known, serious men of a certain age" as BBC Urdu editor Aamer Ahmed Khan describes them.

Which is why he's pretty excited about the presenting team for the World Service's first Urdu tv show.

Sairbeen (panorama in English) started as a daily show on BBC Urdu radio, but is now expanding to TV for an analysis-driven programme targeting young, educated and urban viewers.

"We think BBC content is strong enough to be delivered by these very capable, intelligent, professional young women and they can do it in a manner that will engage and resonate far more with the audience profile we are going for," says Khan.

The BBC Urdu service has been broadcasting on radio since 1940, before the state of Pakistan was formed in 1947, and has an online site.

But Khan says changes in news consumption over the last decade, thanks to an expanding commercial sector and the internet, have led to the need for BBC Urdu to build a TV presence.

"We've actually been thinking about launching it for a very, very long time, however Pakistan is not the easiest of countries to operate in."

Nation of contrasts

Start Quote

Aliya Nazki

While we stand out in terms of presentation, what's more important is that we're all BBC journalists”

End Quote Aliya Nazki Presenter

It remains one of the most dangerous places for a journalist to work in.

But even though the one-hour show will be produced and presented from London, newsgathering teams in Pakistan will still have substantial input.

Yet, contrary to the negative stories that tend to dominate coverage of the country, Khan paints a picture that most foreigners aren't familiar with.

"It's a country where 70% of its 180 million population are below the age of 30.

"Its young urban population is very dynamic, fashion-conscious, they're constantly looking to fuse and integrate themselves with the outside world."

The outward look has even influenced the Western styling of the newsreaders - more shift dresses than salwar khameez - and a billboard campaign has been launched to promote the programme, which starts on Monday.

But at its essence, Khan explains Sairbeen is about bringing the best in-depth journalism amid the frenetic competition of 24/7 rolling news.

"People are used to getting a lot of good stuff from the private sector media…but we hope that our programme becomes a template for strong journalism, strongly presented."

Standing out

Presenter Aliya Nazki, who previously worked for BBC Urdu online, says the focus on longer reports and studio discussion will make the programme "exceptional".

"While we stand out in terms of presentation, what's more important is that we're all BBC journalists and, as always, we'll let our content do the talking for us."

The Kashmiri-born anchor is one of four who make up the presentation pair for each show, and is looking forward to covering issues that may be "overlooked by the region's mainstream media".

"The fact that we're an all-female presenter team is significant when you look at the rest of the Pakistani TV landscape, which is dominated by men. But who is to say we are never going to have a guy amongst us?"

Broadcasting in Urdu on Express News, one of Pakistan's leading channels, the programme will go out every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 11pm local time.

It's late night but Khan says the country's hot climate means most people don't settle down at home until after 9pm.

"Our newsgathering is aimed at generating journalism strong enough to be used across platforms and languages at the BBC.

"I think the best thing we can hope for is that people watch our programme and think wow, this is exactly what we expected from the BBC."

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