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BBC’s Arabic radio service bids farewell to the world after 85 years of broadcasting

Mere hours separate the Arab world from the end of an era, from hearing the very last bang of Big Ben followed by the words, “Huna London” or “This is London”, as 85 years of Arab generations tuning up to the BBC Arabic radio service come to an end.

The broadcasting corporation made the decision last September driven by ongoing financial crisis in Britain. The corporation stated that high inflation rates and increasing expenses pushed it to make difficult decisions of closing down the Arabic broadcast and laying off hundreds of jobs.

This sent shockwaves in the medium, prompting questions of what the future has in store for radio broadcasting, if this is caused purely by economic reasons, or is it a change of heart of British media as Russia and China rise up.

The BBC, one of the world’s most notable broadcasts, began its journey in 1920 at Marconi’s factory with the iconic phrase, “This is London” The Arabic service was the first non-English broadcast from Britain, and it came in response to fascists Italian radio broadcast, Bari.

On the 3rd of January, 1938 News Anchor Ahmad Kamal Srour began the very first broadcast to the Near East region with “This is London .. Ladies and gentlemen we are broadcasting from London in the Arabic Language for the first time in history,” Since then the BBC had established itself a beacon of reliability, integrity and steadiness. From Nouakchott to Kuwait, from Portland Place or Bush house in 1940 or News Broadcasting House in 2012, the BBC, with its incomparable editorial values and highly efficient journalists, proved itself the most significant media outlet the Arab world has known.

The Arab world recalls one of the most memorable moments as the words of late Madeeha Al-Madfai rang through, reading the noon broadcast on the 6th of October, 1973 “ladies and gents .. I have just received this.. Egyptian soldiers crossed the Suez canal and over Bar Lev Line,” The Arab Service used to hold the lion’s share of a grant given by British parliament and run by ministry of foreign affairs, unlike the English language service, which is included within the TV license of GBP 160 paid for annually by households in Britain to receive the services. The BBC is not audited by British audit bureau.

2014 was the turning point as financing the Arabic broadcast was no longer under the jurisdiction of the ministry but joined the rest of the broadcasts within the TV tax bracket.

White House certified journalist and former BBC correspondent in Washington D.C. Atef Abduljawwad was deeply saddened by the news and attributed the closure of Arab language broadcast to current financial crisis in Britain, especially as the broadcast refuses revenue inducing advertisements.

On a phone call with KUNA, Abduljawwad relayed the story of his announcement of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, as he received confirmed news of Iraqi forces moving towards Kuwait and broadcasted the news immediately.

Mahmoud Al-Maslami, whose voice announced the noon broadcast, told KUNA that he would never forget the day he broadcasted World Trade Center bombing, speaking of how the broadcast was turned over its head, how the entire world was.
Al-Maslami expressed deep sorrow over the closure of the Arabic service, recalling its pivotal role in shaping journalist, sharpening their skillsets and instilling in them the sense of objectivity and accuracy.

The journalist commented that the BBC considers the gulf area a focal point as it is a region of heritage and culture, noting the “Gulf this Morning” program launched seven years ago.

He also commented on the special place Kuwaiti listeners hold, saying that the Kuwaiti FM broadcast was one of the first deals inked by the corporation, and it covered all types of Kuwaiti storylines from the elections to cultural events.

Al-Maslami spoke of his own experience in Kuwait, as he met up with avid listeners who have in their possession wonderful recordings of the programs.

As for Nouraldin Rizzouqi, the anchor with the melodic voice, he spoke to KUNA of the nostalgia he feels for the radio and his sadness over the news, especially as he would be the TV anchor covering the closure hour.

Rizzouqi spoke admiringly of the progressive democratic Kuwaiti experience saying that it created an open media climate where doors were never shut in their way but they were able to cover news shackle-free.

He mentioned Kuwait’s imprint on the Arabic division noting the presence of journalist Yousef Mustafa who broadcasted from London, and whose expertise was valuable in gulf matters.

Mohammad Al-Ajmi from BBC Kuwait, told KUNA of the time he broadcasted the Iraqi missile launch on Kuwait in 2003, as he was the first to relay the news to the world.

Al-Ajmy is deeply affected by the Arabic service closure, as the broadcast has become a family to him.

This closure raises questions of whether technology is changing the face of media, of whether orthodox broadcasts will be replaced by digital broadcasting.

BBC indicators affirm that radio broadcasting remains standing in defiance of the times as millions across the world crank up car radios listening to musical tunes or voices relaying hard-hitting news of the world.

Ahmad Al-Sheikh a former BBC journalist and digital media expert stated that one cannot make a generalization on the transformation of broadcasting, as the criteria is not limited to technology but hinges on the preference of listeners, on geographic distribution, behaviors and capabilities.

With this, the words “Huna London” will no longer echo through radio waves but will fade into the distance. Zawya

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