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BBC Arabic and the complexities of the Arab world

Host Host | 15:22 UK time, Friday, 1 February 2013

Faris Couri

By Faris Couri, editor of the BBC Arabic Service

It is no secret that recent Arab uprisings have placed enormous burdens on the shoulders of BBC Arabic journalists responsible for reporting news from the region.

Covering the Arab world is not always an easy task - we need to mix sensible caution with a dose of courage in covering political issues that attract so many disputed views among Arabic-speaking audiences.

Our guiding principles are the BBC's values, its editorial guidelines, its ethical code, which are our reference points to maintain impartial, balanced and accurate reporting.

Across the Arab world - whether it's Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt or Libya, Bahrain, Syria and Iraq or the many other countries in the region - we know that audiences want access to objective and independent news, far removed from an agenda that favours one party, religion or sect against another. That is why audiences are turning to BBC Arabic.

Last year, our latest figures show that overall audiences to BBC Arabic have risen by more than 17% to a record high of 25.3 million adults weekly. That includes a big surge of 2.9 million in Saudi Arabia and 2.7 million in Egypt, where TV viewers in particular turned to the BBC to better understand the events happening in their own country. Our radio audiences are also holding up despite the reductions in transmission. Online is proving to be more of a challenge, but we are working hard to understand the needs of digital audiences and those for whom social media plays an increasingly important part in their lives.

In 2011, following the fall of the Mubarak leadership, we watched as ordinary Egyptians carried banners saying "Thank you, BBC!" But meeting the high expectation of audiences has a price and sometimes it's been a heavy one.

March 2011 brought a strong reminder of the risks that our staff face in covering the news - one of our reporters was arrested and tortured by Muammar Gaddafi's forces during the Libya uprising. In early 2012, our reporter in Yemen was beaten and received death threats from supporters of the outgoing president.

We are also challenged by those who disagree with our coverage. In countries such as Syria and Bahrain, BBC Arabic has been accused of bias.

The criticism comes from opposition and government alike. It may be a valid argument to say that getting criticism from both sides, in the case of Arab world certainly, is an indication of balanced coverage.

On Syria, for example, we had a series of documentaries looking at the civil war from a number of perspectives.

The first one, exploring what it's like to work for a Syrian television channel that's the mouthpiece of the government, was the butt of criticism and threats from Syrian opposition quarters. We followed it up with a programme charting a day in the lives of six Syrian women, five of whom were anti-government activists.

In our day-to-day news coverage, presenting a variety of voices from Syria is essential to us. And that is what distinguishes BBC Arabic from many media outlets in the Arab world which promote political views and agendas, and that is what we are determined to keep.

BBC Arabic marked its 75th anniversary in January. Arab politicians and ordinary people have expressed their appreciation of our track record of impartiality and trusted news. I am confident that the coming years will see further achievement on all our platforms - TV, radio and online.


  • Comment number 1.


  • Comment number 2.

    Arab politicians and ordinary people have expressed their appreciation of our track record of impartiality and trusted news- Which basically proves exactly how unimpartial the BBC is

  • Comment number 3.

    Last Dec, BBC hailed Tunisia’s assembly & their election of a new president in their article, “Tunisian activist, Moncef Marzouki, named president.” What the BBC did not report was Marzouki’s Organization, the Tunisian League for Human Rights, was a US National Endowment for Democracy and George Soros Open Society-funded International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) member org.

  • Comment number 4.

    Clearly orchestrated reordering of the Arab World was done in a specially-conceived order, so that easier nations to topple would be able to eventually contribute to fueling the downfall of more difficult targets as US proxy regimes were installed. Tunisia’s diplomatic attack against Syria is just one example. Complexity? Just flow the dominoes!

  • Comment number 5.

    The despoiling/destruction of Libya by NATO-backed LIFG terrorists has provided a base of operation for the international mercenaries who are now sending fighters into Syria, led by notorious LIFG commander Abdul Belhaj.
    Enormous pressure has been caused by "spin". media silence, or a huge boisterous slant on the truth.

  • Comment number 6.

    It's not that I (always) disagree with BBC coverage. Yes, on occasion I have accused BBC of Bias, but what troubles me most is the "feeling" that I am never getting the full picture, that BBC seems (in fact) to be justifying western actions.
    The one thing that will not get BBC criticism from both sides is the unvarnished truth. Truth can be defended. Falsehood can only be spun.

  • Comment number 7.

    BluesBerry @3-6
    Not wrong to see or suspect, report or warn, of funding & relations of other 'pipers', but 'serial differentiation' of the "clearly orchestrated" may deprive of global understanding. Until every individual is equally secured, by the agreement of all others, the rule of corruption will make suspects of all, even those who protest most loudly, sadly even those striving for balance

  • Comment number 8.

    BluesBerry wrote:

    "...what troubles me most is the "feeling" that I am never getting the full picture..."


    Yes. The BBC, when establishment needs must, will slide seamlessly into another mode. You and I probably won't know when that happens. I seem to remember it did during the Miners' Strike, though, for instance.

    The story then is, as you suggest, what we're not told on the BBC.

  • Comment number 9.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 10.

    I have no doubt that reporting in the Middle East is challenging at the moment given the sensitive political situations there. The BBC will never be perceived as unbiased by everybody - the best that journalists can do is to give as many different perspectives on the same event as possible so that viewers/ readers feel like they're getting the 'full picture'.

  • Comment number 11.

    I believe the BBC Arabic growth figures are proof of the pudding: biased or not, clearly BBC is providing something that is of value! Given the phenomenal social media growth in Middle East, I think BBC would do well to try out some of the new Connected Studio products in the region to test for any perceived bias.

  • Comment number 12.

    @Meryl Coach - I think the growth figures are probably more a function of available content rather than indicative of the quality of that content. If there's not much alternative, people will still watch it even if it may be biased!

    Good idea about using the BBC digital platform and social media to test out the bias though... the results would be telling!

  • Comment number 13.

    @BluesBerry (6) - easy to say but I think the 'unvarnished truth' implies that all possible perspectives of an event would have to be covered by the journalists (unless they're just broadcasting without capturing any opinion at all which would be quite worthless for viewers!) The challenge for BBC is to provide as many perspectives as possible to give, as you say, the 'full picture'.

  • Comment number 14.

    It's impossible to please everyone when it comes to reporting, and practically impossible to capture all possible perspectives for that matter. I hope that BBC Arabic capitalizes on the social media trends in Middle East as Meryl above suggests - capturing and grouping massive numbers of viewer perspectives will definitely give a better view of the 'unvarnished truth' as BluesBerry puts it.

  • Comment number 15.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 16.

    To BluesBerry: Someone said , "There are conspiracies in life but life is not a conspiracy". I suggest you reflect on that. The "Arab Spring" in and of itself is not a grand conspiracy although no doubt there are conspirators trying to achieve their own ends..

  • Comment number 17.

    As with professional carers whose failings on patient sanitation or hydration trying to point at work pressures for ignoring basic decency, some reasons still make poor excuses. BBC Watch daily shows how responsible reporting from the region can be.

    And cut & pasting Trust mantras as gospel won't change that.

  • Comment number 18.

    Never mind BBC Arabic where is BBC England?


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