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.
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
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
'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
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
bbcnews.com. World diary of political and economic events for
the week ahead is available free at the BBC Monitoring website.