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Annual Review 2003/04
A year in review
Iraq and the Middle East
Prisoner, Iraq
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The collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime in April 2003 marked the climax of the biggest-ever news operation for BBC World Service. But the job of reporting the aftermath of the war and developments in Iraq and the Middle East in subsequent months proved just as demanding. In order to move closer to the story, the BBC assigned more correspondents and reporters than ever to the region and drew on the unrivalled expertise of our local reporters who know their societies intimately. The overriding aim has been to give a clear and balanced picture of events that are often as confusing as they are violent.

'Post-war Iraq is not a one-dimensional story,' says Phil Harding, Director, English Networks and News. 'Post-war Iraq is a multi-dimensional story. It is important that we reflect all those dimensions. What is happening in Iraq has all sorts of ramifications all over the world. World Service news and current affairs programmes must not only accurately report what is happening but must also explain why it is happening. That means reporting information gleaned from all sources and reflecting all viewpoints. Only by doing that can we help our audiences not just to hear about events but also to make sense of them.'

Insights on the ground

During a year in which events in Iraq developed with increasing intensity, correspondents such as Paul Wood, Caroline Hawley and Arab affairs analyst Magdi Abdelhadi provided expert analysis of the shifting relationships between different communities, while Arabic Service reporters including Hamdi Faragalla, Naglaa Emary and Nada Abdelsamad provided essential insight on the ground. 'It is essential to know about the contradictory forces at play in the country,' says Liliane Landor, Editor,World Service News and Current Affairs Programmes. 'In the same breath, people can be against the war but happy that Saddam Hussein has gone, happy that things have changed but worried about security. Accounting for those contradictions is an important part of what we do.'

As the BBC's Baghdad correspondent, Caroline Hawley was based in the Iraqi capital before and after the war. She was able to witness at first hand a society in transition, where history was literally in the making. 'You have got to spend time with people, talking to people, to understand what the changes mean to them and to understand exactly what's going on,' she says. 'Events are moving so fast you basically have to live the story in order to keep up with it.'

Lyse Doucet worked for more than a decade as a BBC correspondent in Israel, the Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan before becoming a regular World Service presenter. 'We take the Middle East and broader Muslim world extremely seriously because they are the dominant set of issues in the post 9/11 world,' she says. 'There is no substitute for having lived and worked in the region if you are going to analyse what is happening and contextualise it for audiences. Events in Iraq and the Middle East are interwoven with all sorts of issues such as the bombings in Madrid and Morocco, insecurity in Afghanistan and prospects for reconciliation between India and Pakistan.'

The World Service's long-term commitment to coverage in the Middle East proved vital in a period marked by exceptionally high levels of violence in Israel and the occupied territories. 'The fact that we have a permanent presence in Gaza is one very concrete sign of how seriously we try to cover the Israeli-Palestinian issue,' says Roger Hardy, BBC Middle East Analyst. 'Despite the difficulties of covering this tiny and extremely turbulent part of the Middle East it is a decision that has paid off.'

The BBC's reporting was subjected to intense scrutiny by both Israel and Palestine and those who sympathise with their positions. 'We have to struggle to understand the psychologies of the two peoples involved and that is not easy,' says Roger Hardy. 'It means sitting with families on both sides who may have lost a family member, going to the funerals, seeing the reality of refugee camps on the Palestinian side and going to the Israeli settlements. These are long-term aims but they really help to give the context of the story, not just the top line, and that is what World Service does best.'

Moving closer to audiences

The opening of new production offices in Baghdad and Cairo by the Arabic Service allowed many daily programmes to be produced locally for the first time. In Cairo, a full scale production centre with 30 staff produces six hours of programmes a day alongside the output from London. During the year the Arabic Service also set up a special lifeline programme to link people from the Middle East and around the world with friends and family in Iraq.

The interactive programme Nuqtat Hewar (Talking Point) presented live debates about the future of Iraq from Basra and northern cities as well as Baghdad, and news programmes incorporated regular email reaction from listeners. The multimedia website gives online access to news and analysis updated 24 hours a day to Arabic speakers all over the world. The BBC site has a large Arabic-speaking audience in the United States, while around 50% of users are in the Middle East, largely in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, where access to the internet is growing rapidly.

'Our website is a bridge between Arabic speaking communities across the world, linking people who may have radically different opinions,' says Hosam El Sokkari, Editor of 'By providing accurate news and analysis in Arabic for online users, the BBC helps to counter the kind of rumour and speculation that flourishes on the web. We are a hub for free and open debate. That is an essential role for the BBC, particularly in today's tense climate across the Middle East and Islamic world.'

In Iraq the launch of BBC radio output on FM was crucially important. Rapid expansion of the Iraqi media has taken place since the end of Saddam Hussein's regime, and many FM radio stations are linked to political, ethnic or religious groups. The BBC was the first international broadcaster to set up FM transmitters in key cities. Within four weeks of the end of the war, the World Service was on the air, in English and Arabic, in Baghdad, Basra and Al Amarah. Local people gave practical support, and technical innovations by BBC engineers made it possible to launch services swiftly in areas with poor infrastructure.

Small girl, Iraq Many voices, one world West Bank
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A year in review
Iraq and the Middle East
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