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
'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.'
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.'
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 bbcarabic.com 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
bbcarabic.com. '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.