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BBC plans to stop radio broadcasts in Arabic, Persian

Many Arabic journalists were saddened, but the BBC’s international radio audience has shrunk. The Iranian government is currently in a row with BBC Persian over its coverage of protests.

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)’s World Service has proposed cutting its radio broadcasts in several languages, Arabic and Persian among them.

What it means: The BBC will still produce content in Arabic and Persian, but the plan is to no longer broadcast in these languages via radio waves. The decision is motivated by a desire to save money and cut costs, the network said Thursday. 

In addition to radio, the BBC offers online and television content in both languages. 

Why it matters: Many Arabic media professionals reacted with sadness to the news. “A stage and a generation has been extinguished,” Syria Television journalist Yaser Atrash wrote on Twitter Thursday. 

Some journalists expressed concern that favoring online news over  radio broadcasts could restrict some people’s access to the BBC in the Middle East. 

“People rely on these radio language services for fair and balanced news they can’t get elsewhere. Especially in countries where the govt may cut the internet so ‘digital only’ means that at critical moments the service is unavailable,” Channel 4 editor Lindsey Hilsum tweeted Thursday. 

Radio broadcasts can also be blocked via a process called jamming, however. The US Virtual Embassy in Iran has accused Iranian authorities of doing this to foreign broadcasts, for example. 

Part of the BBC’s appeal is that it is relatively independent, and does not shy away from reporting on anti-government protests in the Middle East, for example. Much of the media in the region is controlled by governments or political actors. 

Internet cuts are also a problem in parts of the region, including in Iran at present. On Friday, the Iranian government cut internet access amid continued protests over the death of Mahsa Amini, the internet watchdog NetBlocks said. The Islamic Republic often restricts internet during demonstrations, and blocks access to many social media networks, such as Twitter. 

The Iranian government has been angry at BBC Persian recently. Last week, Iran’s Foreign Ministry summoned the British ambassador in response to “hostile reporting by Persian-language media based in London against Iran,” the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported. 

Know more: The BBC reaches a relatively small international audience via radio. The BBC World Service has a weekly audience of around 360 million across all mediums. By comparison, the BBC Radio's World Service radio has only 1.24 million weekly listeners, according to the BBC’s own figures. 

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