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Annual Review 2006/07

 
Map: Middle East

A Year in Review - The Middle East

Reporting conflicts in a polarized world

"Audience research shows the bbc's reputation for impartiality and accuracy is something that is valued in the region."

Coverage of the Middle East is a challenge that tests all broadcasters. Events and conflicts there engender deeply passionate views in a climate of mutual distrust and intolerance. Every phrase in a broadcast report is under scrutiny.

In order to help audiences navigate this plethora of contradictory opinions, BBC World Service strives to offer impartial, balanced, accurate and brave reporting of this region's long-running conflicts. It has worked hard to provide in-depth analysis and context alongside the daily twists and turns of the story.

In reporting the war in 2006 between Hezbollah in Lebanon and Israel, the BBC sent news teams to both sides of the border. Correspondents Jim Muir and Roger Hearing were on the spot from the start, together with Kim Ghattas from the BBC's new Beirut bureau. BBC Arabic reporters co-presented programmes from Beirut and Haifa and covered different viewpoints, including criticism of Hezbollah. 'We offer a range of perspectives so audiences can make up their own minds about the issues,' says Hosam El Sokkari, Head of BBC Arabic service. The interactive programme World Have Your Say was instrumental in helping people on both sides talk to each other.

Investment in news resources, including a new production centre in Cairo, boosted the ability to respond to breaking news across the Middle East. Extra reporters are being recruited and many have been television trained.

The opportunity to talk to ordinary Iraqis played a leading part in Iraq Week, which marked the fourth anniversary of the US-led invasion. Programmes told the stories of a cross-section of Iraq society, such as a child psychiatrist, a baker, a police diver and a barber. Had their lives improved, did they have more access to water and electricity, could their children go to school safely?

The things that came over were not the bombings, the killings and the dreadful casualty toll, it was what everyday life is like,' says Phil Harding, Director of English Networks and News. 'What sticks in your mind is the fact that everywhere there is the hum of private generators because there is no power, the personal stories of people who have had to move within Iraq or have left Iraq and their reasons for doing so, the blogs of the service people serving in Iraq - the human experience of it.

In Iraq, where the BBC maintained its bilingual bureau, moving around the country became much more difficult. 'We have always thought about safety but you can't simply stop reporting places like Gaza and Iraq because they are dangerous,' says Liliane Landor, Editor News and Current Affairs. 'The question is how do you do it, having taken enough precautions? In Iraq you can't stay in any one spot for more than 15 or 20 minutes because you would attract attention and you must be surrounded by security guards.

BBC Arabic responded by strengthening its network of contacts throughout Iraq, where there is an audience of four million listeners. 'The last thing we would want to do is to get a story and lose a journalist,' says Hosam El Sokkari. 'We are finding ways round the restrictions building a stronger contact list of people we can rely on for tips and stories. We want to give the bigger picture, not just report how many people have been killed today.

The BBC's editorial values are integral to its success. 'Audience research shows the BBC's reputation for impartiality and accuracy is something that is valued in the region and in 2007 we will be able to meet this demand with a multimedia offer combining radio, online and television,' says Jerry Timmins, Head of Africa and Middle East Region. 'You will be able to get access to news and information from the BBC wherever you are and by whatever means you want, whether that's a mobile phone or through satellite television or FM or online. We are uniquely positioned to deliver that.

"We offer a range of perspectives so audiences can make up their own minds about the issues."

ONE WEEK IN IRAQ
Iraq Week brought home the reality of everyday life, four years after the invasion. Hugh Sykes was among the BBC correspondents on the spot talking to Iraqi people. Among them was a teacher at the linguistics department of Baghdad University. She told him how violence and the fear of violence are now commonplace. Rafi, an English-language lecturer, received a warning one day not to give low marks. He ignored the warning and continued to apply the usual standards to students' exam papers. Rafi was shot dead getting into his car to go to work at the university. Two other lecturers have received death threats. One found a bullet on her desk with her name written on it.

IRAN IN FOCUS
News coverage of Iran was extensive in a year of growing international tension over the country's nuclear programme. A week of special programmes, Iran in Focus, took a close look at the country's place in the world and asked Iranians for their views about life, politics and issues such as women's rights.

The BBC's Tehran correspondent, Frances Harrison, described the difficulties she faces doing her job. The presence of the foreign media in Iran is an irritant to those abroad who want regime change, but here we are spurned as the propaganda machinery of the enemy and, increasingly, Iranian officials will not talk to us. We find we are treading a line between different views of Iran in reporting this country.

Blocking of the BBC's Persian website by the authorities in Iran proved only partially successful. Although traffic fell, it remained among the top three BBC World Service sites and over 50,000 people registered to get daily emails with the latest news. Radio audiences are unaffected.

Image montage showing: child looking out of car window; Iranian woman smoking; Hezbollah man

 

 

 

BBC - Many voices, one world
A year in review
The Middle East
Many voices, one world
 
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