The Imperialism of Indifference: From Colonial Voice to Reliable News Source Trusted by Generations, the BBC Closes its Iconic Arabic Radio After 85 Years

Elie Chalala
On the left, photograph of the late Jordanian BBC anchor Sami Haddad and on the right, the BBC’s headquarters.

The demise of BBC Arabic closes a chapter in modern Arab history. This is not a romantic or idealistic lamentation. Any Arab student or scholar who lived through or part of the post-WWI era of the 20th century can easily recognize the association between BBC Arabic and major political events. The question becomes not who are the writers of history — it is a history written by the literate or middle classes as opposed to a popular history. How can scholars tell that BBC Arabic was part of the lives of the groups who have written about the contemporary history of the Arab world? We rely on two indicators: literacy and politicization. When I use the term history, I believe that most if not all those who wrote on the political history of the Arab world came from literate classes and were part of groups ‌that cared for and even were engaged in politics. Those included pan-Arabists of the radical schools such as Nasserites and Bathists, conservatives, Islamists, and those moderate liberals opposed to socialists and communist groups.
I would venture to assume that only a limited percentage of these groups escaped the impact or the political socialization of the Arabic BBC. BBC Arabic news and analysis dominated all other Arab news sources when skepticism accompanied journalism and analysis, its objectivity and reliability making it outspoken compared to other Arab news outlets. In the post-WWII period, mainly from the 1960s onwards, the dogmatic and propagandistic literature that portrayed BBC Arabic as a colonial tool meant to divide the Arab nation reached an impasse.  
The British Authority's recent decision in 2022 to close BBC Arabic news after 85 years of operation shocked many who grew up listening to its broadcasts. While the British Broadcasting Corporation (originally the British Broadcasting Company) was founded in 1922 and began broadcasting as a private radio company in early 1927, the organization became a public company when the British government intervened to maintain the new media outlet. BBC Arabic, established in 1938, was the largest and oldest non-English media service launched by the network, delivering the latest news to 39 million Arabs weekly, not only by radio but also through several magazines — "The Arab Listener," "Here's London," and "The Political Viewer" — and in recent years, a satellite TV channel founded after the 1991 Gulf War.
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