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Annual Review 2004/05
A year in review - BBC Monitoring
Monitoring operations at Caversham


BBC Monitoring's ability to observe media developments from inside countries all over the world paid dividends during a momentous year in key areas, from the Middle East to Russia and Ukraine. In Iraq, the service kept track of rapid growth in the number of newspapers, radio and television stations that has gathered pace in the second year since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime.

In the new Iraq, private media outlets are dominant. Most are linked to political, ethnic or religious groups that are competing for influence. The changes that have taken place in the past two years illustrate particularly well what happens when a totalitarian state is overthrown. One or two state-controlled channels are replaced by a multiplicity of media outlets, some of which are owned and run by Iraqis and others from outside the country.

TV and radio stations set up by the now defunct US-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) are being incorporated into a new publicly funded broadcaster, the Iraqi Public Broadcasting Service. In addition to American, British and other international broadcasters there are many regional offers. Journalists and media workers have fallen victim both to insurgents and coalition military action.

Iraq and the Middle East is a priority for BBC Monitoring, which keeps watch on more than 3,000 radio, TV, press, internet and news agency sources worldwide, translating from up to 100 languages. The service is a key part of the BBC's newsgathering operation and a valued supplier of information to British Government departments and other subscribers, including media organisations, foreign governments, major companies and other organisations around the world.

A Cabinet Office review was announced in 2004 and was still underway at the end of the financial year.

'BBC Monitoring's ability to get inside Iraq and keep pace with the rapidly developing media scene on the ground has been vitally important in the last year,' says Chris Westcott, Director of BBC Monitoring. 'Knowing about all the new media outlets, who they are and what they are saying is essential but the practical difficulties are immense in a country like Iraq. An additional challenge is how to respond to this increasingly complex media environment within finite resources.'

The different shades of opinion in Iraq were clear during the elections in January, when some called for the elections to be postponed. Independent newspapers were divided but most private broadcasters backed the poll. New commercial satellite TV stations such as Al- Sharqiya – run by an Iraqi media mogul – and Saudi-financed Al-Diyar TV urged people to vote. BBC Monitoring demonstrated how private commercial broadcasters are making most of the running, taking advantage of what is regarded as one of the more liberal media environments in the Arab world.

Ukraine's media clampdown

In Ukraine, where BBC Monitoring has its own bureau, the signs of a media clampdown were evident to staff long before the disputed elections were held. President Kuchma's attempts to close down debate became clear months earlier. Entertainment shows began replacing news and current affairs, and legal attempts were made to influence the way the press was operating. Events came to a head when key sections of the Ukrainian media refused to toe the line and adopted a much more robust view of the demonstrations than they would have done previously.

'Ukraine showed the value of being able to track a story over a long period of time and not just coming to it when it makes the news headlines,' says Chris Westcott. 'Being in the country meant we could start to pick up the nuances between the east and west of the country at an early stage and find out whether people felt they were looking to Russia or Western Europe. Having our own bureau in Kiev was extremely important in reporting the media component of the 'orange revolution' and providing content and facilities to BBC news outlets.'

During the Beslan siege in Russia, BBC Monitoring helped to unravel a confused media picture of events at the school where more than 1,000 children and adults were taken hostage. With its own Russian monitoring team based inside the BBC bureau in Moscow, it revealed how widely differing accounts were being given in newspapers and on television. Its ability to cover the whole of Russia showed there were big differences between what was being said by regional and Moscow-based media.

'The reason why the story appeared so confused came down to the tension between Moscow state media and regional media baronies trying to exercise control,' explains Chris Westcott. 'Different people had different agendas.'

The ability of BBC Monitoring to provide coverage of remote parts of the world proved particularly valuable during the Indian Ocean tsunami. 'One of Monitoring's strengths is coverage of countries that can get overlooked by others,' explains duty editor Chris Greenway. 'During the morning of 26 December our Nairobi unit filed a tsunami report from a local radio station in a remote region of Somalia. At the time the rest of the world had barely understood that the destruction had extended as far as Africa.'

Reaction to the disaster was monitored all over the world. One of the most extreme views came from a hardline Iranian paper, which expressed the opinion that the tsunami was divine retribution on 'international centres of revelry'.

BBC Monitoring's media reports and country profiles are available at World diary of political and economic events for the week ahead is available free at the BBC Monitoring website.

'Iraq and the Middle East is a priority for BBC Monitoring, which keeps watch on more than 3,000 radio, TV, press, internet and news agency sources worldwide, translating from up to 100 languages.'
Monitoring operations at Caversham Monitoring operations at Caversham Monitoring operations at Caversham
BBC - Many voices, one world
A year in review
BBC Monitoring
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