The BBC’s first foreign-language service, BBC Arabic Radio, has gone off the air after more than eight decades of broadcasting.
The shutdown of BBC Arabic Radio is part of a broader restructuring at the British public broadcaster, one that is meant to streamline operations and reduce costs as the majority of audio and video consumers shift to online platforms.
BBC Arabic Radio was part of the BBC World Service, the external public broadcaster that provided news and current affairs programming in dozens of languages around the world. The service launched in 1938 as a way to combat propaganda from the Nazi Party in Germany during World War II.
Last year, officials at the BBC said half the language services would move to digital-only platforms, a move that would result in the shut-down of some outlets and a loss of around 380 jobs. Planned cuts included BBC Arabic Radio as well as stations that broadcast in Chinese, Hindi and other languages.
Some Arabic-language programming that was available on BBC Arabic Radio will shift online. The BBC Arabic television channel was unaffected by this week’s closure. A BBC World Service spokesperson told the New York Times that internal data showed BBC Arabic programming reached more than 39 million people per week, but only around 12 percent listened to radio programming, and only 5 percent of its audience listened exclusively to BBC Arabic Radio.
“We want to reach our audiences on the digital platforms they’ve chosen,” Mohamed Yehia, the head of multimedia output at BBC Arabic, said in a statement. “These changing audience needs are why it’s vital we develop our digital audio offering. I’m immensely proud of all those, past and present, whose reporting and impactful ideas made BBC Arabic radio possible, and I’m extremely grateful to listeners for their support over the decades.”
Along with the shift in consumer habits, the need to wind down some BBC operations comes as the public broadcaster grapples with a future dip in revenue as the country’s government moves away from a mandated tax on households that receive over-the-air television service. The tax, called a television license, was the main revenue generator for the BBC’s radio and television channels, including the international variants of the BBC World Service.
The restructuring will also impact some domestic BBC Radio operations, primarily local stations that will see a reduced local programming schedule in favor of syndicated and national programmings during the evening hours and on weekends.
On Monday, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) circulated a memo that said it would hold a referendum to see if members supported a strike over the proposals at the BBC Local radio stations. The union already asked if its members supported the proposals; over 70% rejected them, according to The Guardian.
If BBC Local staffers support a strike, it would likely occur in mid-March, The Guardian reported. Votes over the strike will start during the first full week of February.