Dismayed Abu Dhabi listeners launch battle to keep BBC World Service on the airwaves
Fans of the BBC World Service have taken to social media to express their anger and disappointment at the news that from tomorrow the station will no longer be broadcast on FM in Abu Dhabi.
Although they can still listen to it online, on satellite radio, on short-wave and by downloading the BBC Arabic app, it will now be harder to tune in at the place where many people turn the radio on – their cars.
Adriana Holtslag-Alvarez, 55, a bank consultant from Mexico, listens to the BBC World Service for at least two hours a day while driving her children to school and on her work commute. She’s been an avid listener for the past 20 years.
“I am totally dismayed,” she says. “The station is a lifeline to the outside world. I automatically reach for the World Service when it is not in Arabic – and sometimes also in Arabic as I am ‘shouei shouei’ learning the language.”
She launched a rallying cry on the Abu Dhabi Women’s Group, Brighton College Mums and other Facebook groups to protest the decision, and about 40 people have so far sent complaints to the BBC.
One of them is Louise Ware, 35, from the United Kingdom, who works for a development company. She says World Service programmes are some of the best on UAE airwaves.
“They’re informative, interesting and not just interested in celebrity gossip,” she says. “Where else can you listen to an interview with an author of a book that caused them to be exiled from their own country, then an article on the next digital trend, followed by a piece on surrogacy in India for western women?”
Ware previously lived in Bahrain, where she daily tuned in to the World Service.
“When we moved to the UAE I was really disappointed that it is only aired here from 9am to 6pm each day,” she says. “I had to make the most of listening on the weekends as I work during broadcasting hours. Now my weekend fix is being taken away, too.”
Egyptian-Canadian homemaker Basma Saleh, 44, is also lamenting the loss.“It’s sad news,” she says. “Aside from getting the latest news on the go, I really enjoy the diversity of their programmes. I listen to Outlook, Witness and Arts Hour among other programmes, from which I’ve learnt a lot.”
Another angry plea for the BBC to reconsider its decision was sent by the marketing specialist Katie Daniels, 43. “I won’t stream at home, don’t have short-wave, and unless using their app works out cheap with seamless sound, they have lost me and thousands of other dedicated listeners,” she says.
“Abu Dhabi is a peaceful and influential corner of the Middle East. Our neighbourhood is on fire – impartial and accurate reporting from the region has never been more important. The listeners here, in both Arabic and English, make big regional decisions.”
Although the World Service will continue to be broadcast elsewhere in the region, the BBC says it is no longer cost-effective in the UAE. Funding changed last April, from the UK Foreign Office to a combination of advertising, programme licensing and public funding, which has led to budget cuts.
A British media industry specialist in Abu Dhabi, who asked not to be named, said: “A lot of people in the UK don’t like paying the BBC licence fee and object to their money being used to provide a service for expats and foreigners. The world has changed, as has the technology used to receive programmes .”
The BBC currently has an audience of approximately 1.7 million in the UAE across TV, radio and online in Arabic and English. The majority connect through TV, with the remaining audience split between radio and digital.
The World Service has been broadcasting on the Abu Dhabi frequency 90.3FM since 2003.
Dubai and the Northern Emirates lost their World Service FM frequency five years ago.
• BBC World Service is still available on medium Wave between 6am and 7am and 10pm to 12am on 1413 kHz in English, and in Arabic on 702 kHz between 6pm and 12am
Updated: June 28, 2015 04:00 AM