BBC Arabic TV: Participation and the Question of Public Diplomacy

in Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication
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Abstract

This article analyzes the launch in 2008 of the BBC's Arabic television channel. Drawing upon the work of Lacan, and in particular his conceptions of the discourses of the master and the hysteric, it examines how the channel has sought to position itself as providing a forum for audience participation and debate, and asks why the channel has sought to configure itself in these terms. Underpinning these questions stands the relationship of the BBC World Service (within which BBC Arabic is located), with the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The article takes as its focus the channel's 'flagship' discussion program Point of Debate. This program is contrasted with both traditional news broadcasting and Al-Jazeera's pioneering discussion program 'The Opposite Direction.' The paper examines how 'Point of Debate' has sought to encourage a form of questioning and debate that accords with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's public diplomacy objectives. It moves on to analyze the relationship between the intended appeal of the channel and the position it has sought to occupy in the crowded Arab news mediascape. The article concludes by assessing the challenges facing the channel as it attempts to achieve its aims.

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