Sunday, June 25, 2017

No 6

Condition No 6 sought by the Gulf States from Qatar in order to get back into the Golf/Gulf Club is to close down the Al Jazeera network.

It's a network that might not have started without the BBC. In March 1994, the BBC signed a deal to produce an Arab-language tv news channel, funded by a Saudi-conglomerate called Mawarid. It was a deal that brought in money via BBC Worldwide; some 150 staff, mostly blokes in suits, appeared on the upper floors of TV Centre, and brought exotic tobacco to the BBC Club bar. Sadly, it wasn't overly long before Saudi rulers found the impartiality agreed in writing with the BBC too uncomfortable, and the plug was pulled in April 1996. The BBC tried and failed to find alternative backers. Tiny Qatar set up Al Jazeera employing many of the 150, and went on air in November 1996.

It's now the No 1 Arabic news channel. But it has two operations. The original, with around 2,000 staff worldwide, famed for bringing you Bin Laden videos, and the English language version, set up in 2006, with just over 1,000 employees. Al Jazeera America launched in 2013, and closed in 2016. BBC Arabic TV, live from London, came back in 2008, driven by the World Service, and funded by additional grant-in-aid from the Foreign Office. Since 2014, you and I, dear licence-payer, have been funding it.

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