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The BBC Arabic Service: Changing Political Mediascapes

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Launched in 1938 as the BBC's first foreign language radio service, 80 years later, in 2008, the BBC Arabic Service also became the first tri-media platform at the World Service offering news and current affairs not only on radio and on online, but also via a fully fledged TV Channel in Arabic. This article traces the intervening transformations by exploring two critical moments in detail and examines why broadcasting to the Middle East has assumed such a pivotal position in the BBC's history. The first step examines selected internal communications between the British government and the BBC during World War Two, and the second outlines the BBC's current choices and strategy of combining the provision of 'impartial' news with new kinds of interactive programming and establishing opportunities for participation in mediated debates among audiences and users across the Middle East and the Arabic-speaking diasporas. Drawing on archival research, observational, and interview data, this article indicates enduring issues and themes that run through the history of the BBC Arabic services. The most important of these concern the dilemma of providing impartial news at the same time as promoting British diplomatic goals and strategic interests in the Greater Middle East.


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