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Annual Review 2005/06
A Year in Review - The Middle East and Central Asia

Telling the Inside Story - 'Through our unique newsgathering teams we managed to get under the skin of what is happening and give people a better understanding of how Iraqis like today.'

‘Drive around many parts of the city, and it looks much like any other big Middle Eastern capital,’ says Andrew North, who took over from Caroline Hawley as BBC Baghdad correspondent in December 2005. ‘Busy and colourful market streets, thronging with people and traffic.Yet everyone going about their daily business here lives under the shadow of sudden, random violence.’

Capturing a full picture of the situation in Iraq against this daily backdrop of violence proved challenging and complex in a year when events in that country and the wider Middle East continued to dominate the news headlines. In addition to its permanent news presence in Baghdad, the BBC relied on the determination and courage of a network of contributors throughout Iraq.

‘It’s been an enormous challenge covering Iraq and, to a lesser extent, the wider Middle East,’ says Liliane Landor, Editor, BBC World Service News Programmes.‘In Iraq the security situation has made it very difficult on the ground – it’s simply too dangerous for correspondents to move around and we’ve had to think of more creative means to cover the country.’

One response was to take an in-depth look at the reality of life in special Iraq Days during the year. People from all walks of life, all over the country, described their experiences. They ranged from an insurance broker whose business was thriving to a hairdresser who often had to manage without any water. ‘Through our contacts we managed to get under the skin of what is happening and give people a better understanding of how Iraqis live today,’ says Hosam El Sokkari, Head of BBC Arabic.‘On a day-to-day basis, it’s not just the explosions, the bombs and the conflicts but also how do they feel about the changes in Iraq and how do they perform their normal duties and tasks.’

‘Parliament for Arabs’
Despite considerable competition, BBC Arabic radio listening held up strongly, aided by the launch of new FM services in key areas, such as Sulaymaniyah in northern Iraq and in Gaza.

A new medium-wave service was launched in Lebanon. Online usage reached an all-time high of over 21 million page impressions a month, strengthening the BBC’s impact as it prepares to launch its new Arabic television service in 2007.

Throughout the year, the rapid pace of events seldom slowed across the whole of the Middle East. Forming a complex chain of developments, key stories included Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s illness and the elections in Israel, the Palestinian territories and Egypt and their aftermath.

The BBC’s ability to report and analyse events from a wide range of viewpoints played an important part when Israel evacuated its settlers from Gaza.Vivid on-the-ground reporting and story telling were combined with specialist depth and insight which put the withdrawal into context for a world audience. World Update was presented for a week both from inside the settlements in Gaza and where the Palestinians are in control. BBC reporter Ahmad Budeiri covered the evacuation from inside the Israeli settlements for BBC Arabic.

BBC Arabic has provided news and current affairs coverage around the clock since the Iraq war. In 2005, it launched a new programme for young audiences, BBC Extra, broadening the agenda to social issues such as health and women’s rights. Interactive programming was extended to provide a growing forum for radio and online audiences to debate the latest events. ‘We have been called a “Parliament for Arabs”, where people can contribute different views and perspectives without fear of being marginalised or judged,’ says Hosam El Sokkari.

‘BBC Arabic is one of the leading news providers in the Middle East and we will be the only one offering a coordinated service across radio, online and television,’ says Jerry Timmins, Head of Africa and Middle East Region. ‘TV will give us access to areas we are unable to reach on FM and meet a genuine audience demand.’

BBC Persian site blocked
In Iran, BBC correspondent Frances Harrison had to operate under restrictions to cover major stories.The domestic and international implications of the election of a new hard-line government – and the increasing tensions over Iran’s nuclear programme – were the dominant themes on radio and online.

The BBC’s Persian Service offered audiences strong coverage of the election, which included rare interviews with the leading contenders, Rafsanjani and Karubi.The then British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Egyptian Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohammad Al Baradei, and Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, were among the big names interviewed on the nuclear debate.

Traffic from Iran to nearly doubled during election week. However, the Iranian authorities ordered the blocking of the site in January 2006, depriving many Iranians of a trusted and respected source of free and independent information at a time of growing tension. It remains the dominant news site in Persian. Many people still manage to access the site, and the weekly web forums continue to attract a large number of responses both from inside Iran and elsewhere in the world.They offer a unique window through which we can see what ordinary Iranians think about events inside and outside their country. Representations are being made to lift the ban.

The uprising in Andijan was the most important event in Central Asia.When demonstrators were shot dead in the Uzbek city last year, BBC World Service, uniquely among international media, was able to report from the scene and provide full coverage of the aftermath. The powerful audio recording of the events as they unfolded is now the only original record of what happened in Andijan on 13 May 2005. Services in Uzbek and English have succeeded since that date in analysing the long-term impact despite very restricted access.

Leaving Baghdad
Caroline Hawley, the BBC correspondent in Iraq since before the fall of Saddam Hussein, left Baghdad in December to take up her new post as the BBC’s Middle East correspondent. ‘There is a lot I will miss about Iraq,’ she said. ‘But I am relieved to be escaping a city where it is not unusual to be woken up by bombs.’

Iraq Days
Ordinary Iraqis told their own stories in the BBC’s special days of coverage. ‘Just now we’ve got electricity, but I’ll bet you it won’t last more than a couple of hours at most,’ said Um Mustafa, a hairdresser from Baghdad.‘Not surprisingly, there’s no one here yet, no customers. People are generally more afraid in the morning. Eventually they venture out.’

Gaza Withdrawal
In August 2005, BBC News correspondents witnessed events across Gaza as Israeli soldiers began to remove people from their homes.

A Jewish woman from the Kfar Darom settlement in Gaza confronts Israeli soldiers sent to implement Israel’s policy of withdrawal Protesters in Andijan, Uzbekistan during the uprising in May A woman shows her ink-stained finger after voting in Baghdad
BBC - Many voices, one world
A year in review
The Middle East and Central Asia
Many voices, one world
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