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Participation, Dialogue and Public Diplomacy Across English & Arabic Mediascapes: BBC, Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiyya compared

This research examined the coverage of news and online forums related to coverage of the 60th anniversary of Al-Nakhba in May 2008 on several types of bi and tri-platform format (TV/web, TV/radio/web and radio/web) across the two languages. In order to assess the distinctive contribution of the BBC, and indeed its claims since the launch of its new Arabic television service in April 2008, we also consider forums or other forms of participation offered by rival satellite television services, again in both Arabic and English (Al Jazeera) and Arabic only (Al Arabiyya).

Research aims

  1. To examine the distinctive role of BBCWS interactive services in increasingly crowded and interactive English and Arabic language mediascapes.
  2. To compare BBC and BBCWS English and Arabic language forums with those of rival services, particularly considering moderation styles and debate quality.
  3. To consider interactive services as a site for the building of trust with diverse and dispersed audiences/users

Research questions

  1. What is the distinctive role of BBCWS interactive services in an increasingly crowded and interactive mediascape?
  2. How is the BBCWS' vision of a 'global conversation' realised through its interactive services, for example in facilitating discussion of sensitive topics such as the 60th anniversary of Al-Nakba?
  3. How is trust in the BBC constructed and maintained through its interactive services?

We found that the resources directed into BBC forums for moderation, combined with a less partisan stance towards material discussed, enabled the production of a more nuanced and multiperspectival conversation than that of rival services. While these rival services certainly have their place in a plural mediascape as arenas for the expression of solidarity and discussion within a specific grounded context, the global extent of especially English language World Service conversations enable a more fully discursive and wider-ranging exchange. In providing such a 'space to talk', it would indeed appear that the BBCWS performs a distinctive role in relation to both English and Arabic language mediascapes, and that the 'distance' provided by a non-regionally based service provider, while not necessarily corresponding to traditional notions of impartiality, does provide a valued alternative to the 'directed media' which dominate the Middle East.

Project contact: 

Dr David Herbert, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen,

    Project members: 

  • David Herbert is Lecturer in Sociology of Religion at the University of Groningen, and he worked at the Open University from 1996-2009. His main research interests are in religion and social integration and religion and media. His most recent research project was on cross-community programmes in Northern Ireland (2005-8), and before Tuning In he also worked with Professor Gillespie on Shifting Securities, investigating the role of media consumption on perceptions of security.

    Rämy M. K. Aly is currently completing a PhD on Arabs in London at the Department of Anthropology at the University of Sussex. He holds an MA in Middle East Politics and International Security, an M.Sc. in Research Methods in Social Anthropology and a degree in Law with American Studies. Rämy also works on a number of research projects including an European Community funded project on Arab media and citizenship at the London School of Economics Department of Media and Communications, with the Open University on Arabic language media (Greenwich 7/10 and Tuning In), as well as teaching a course on material culture for the Department of Media and Film at the University of Sussex. His research interests include performative race and culture, postcolonial studies, the Arab diaspora, and media and culture.