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BBC Arabia is back, but this time its different, says Hosam El Sokkari, the Corporation's head of Arabic services.

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March 2, 2009 6:46 by



In January 2009, less a year after its launch in March 2008, BBC Arabic TV started broadcasting 24 hours a day (it previously aired for 12 hours daily). Based in London and with 35 correspondents across the globe, BBC Arabic is now a serious player in the Arabic TV industry, competing with the likes of Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, and France 24 Arabic. The channel is already in its second incarnation, and it is making sure it does things differently this time around.

Having first launched in 1994 as a commercial operation in partnership with Orbit Communications Corporation (owned by Saudi Arabia’s Prince Khaled, a cousin of King Fahd), BBC Arabic was on the air for two years before its plug was pulled.

The channel was shut down after the BBC aired an episode of Panorama that was critical of the Saudi Arabian government. It was 1996, the same year Al Jazeera launched, and many ex-BBC Arabic staff joined Al Jazeera, including Hosam El Sokkari, the current head of BBC Arabic services.

Rania Habib spoke to El Sokkari, who first joined BBC Arabic in 1994, about how the channel is doing as it approaches its first anniversary.

El Sokkari returned to the BBC only a few months after absconding to Al Jazeera and was appointed head of bbcarabic.com in 1999. He says that now that the channel is funded by a grant-in-aid from the British Foreign Office, it no longer faces the constraints it was under with its previous funding operation.

What kind of feedback have you received since BBC Arabic Television was launched in March 2008?

So far the feedback from the market seems really positive. BBC Arabic, since its launch, has covered issues and events in a way that I believe no other competitor has. For us, the coverage of the 2008 American elections was unique; we produced an elaborate explanation of how the election process takes place, we followed the results, and we explained to audiences the complexity of the election process. Also, our coverage of events in Lebanon in general, or key events in Egypt, has been very different and has gotten us quite a lot of favorable responses from our audience.



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