The contrasting approach of the UK and US to Arabic TV station Al Jazeera is always interesting. While the US has noisily condemned the station’s anti-Western stance, setting up a rival station nobody watches and almost certainly giving Al Jazeera a ratings boost amongst anti-US Arabs, the BBC World Service (funded by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, not the licence payer) has quietly forged incredibly close links with the station. The BBC closed its first Arabic TV service in 1996, with Al Jazeera not only taking BBC news, but also sharing production facilities. The BBC provides training to Al Jazeera journalists and technicians. This is how BBC News always beats its commercial rivals to Al Jazeera broken stories.
Now the FCO has now asked the BBC to provide an Arabic TV station to broadcast commercial free and head-to-head with Al Jazeera, it’s hard to see how cooperation can be maintained. Maybe Al Jazeera isn’t as well connected as many in the West believed; after all, Middle Eastern ‘evil-doers’ are unlikely friends to a TV station that speaks out.