x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Arab Spring prompts BBC to air provocative show

BBC to boost Arabic-language production of controversial Question Time show, amid what it sees as greater demand for audience participation.

The BBC plans to boost production of its popular Question Time show in Arabic, amid what it sees as greater demand for audience participation after this year's regional unrest.

The TV show, which has often stirred controversy in Britain, typically features a range of politicians who answer questions put to them by the audience.

The British broadcaster says that it plans to make more Arabic-language versions of Question Timebecause of the Arab Spring. The move is a response to what it sees as a greater need for audience participation after the toppling of regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

Naglaa El Emary, the Cairo bureau chief and regional special projects editor for BBC Arabic, said Question Timewould be taken to various countries in the Middle East and North Africa. "There is a big demand for debate and discussion programmes," she said. "We have plans to carry on doing Question Time in different countries."

The English-language version of the programme, broadcast in Britain, often generates lively debate.

In 2009, the show caused controversy by hosting Nick Griffin, the head of the far-right British National Party. Scores of anti-fascist campaigners protested outside the studios, some of them breaching security in an attempt to disrupt the broadcast.

A few Arabic-language versions of the show have been aired. Question Time was broadcast from Tunisia just before the recent elections there, and one episode was made in Sudan last year.

But Question Time last year faced opposition in Egypt under the regime of then-president Hosni Mubarak, Ms El Emary said. The broadcast of the show was "banned" late last year, because one of the panellists was a representative of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

After the Arab Spring, Ms El Emary now expects more demand for shows such as Question Time in Arabic, in a media environment not previously accustomed to "people questioning their officials".

"It's giving more and more space for the audience to participate. We don't have an agenda, but we are trying to respond to the audience's needs," she said. "Our plan is to focus more on young people, social media and documentary making."

The BBC said the audience for its Arabic-language TV channel had grown by more than 80 per cent during the Arab Spring.

The station says it now has 24.4 million viewers, up from 13.5 million before the regional unrest.

The BBC's various Arabic services, which include TV, internet and radio, draw a total audience of 33.4 million adults weekly, up from 21.6 million before the Arab Spring, the broadcaster said.

The BBC was quoting an independent study carried out by the Broadcasting Board of Governors' International Audience Research Project.

bflanagan@thenational.ae

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