‘This is London’ no more

End of BBC Arabic Radio evokes nostalgia, highlights digitization

Ahmed Kamal Sorour, the first broadcaster to read a bulletin on BBC Arabic in 1938. (Photo: BBC Arabic)
AMMAN — After 85 years of broadcasting, the BBC Arabic radio service officially went off the air on Friday, prompting sorrow from listeners across the globe. اضافة اعلان

The shutdown comes as part of various cuts at BBC’s World Service aimed at decreasing costs and focusing on digital programming. 

The service, known for opening its news bulletins with the words “This is London”, was launched in January 1938, when Ahmed Kamal Soroor commenced it as the first non-English-language broadcast from Britain before the Second World War. 

Jordan News spoke to various listeners on the closure of BBC’s Arabic broadcast. Here is what they had to say. 

DigitizationYasser Abu Hilala, Al Jazeera's former director-general, told Jordan News that the shift to digitization is based on economic factors, seeing as “the cost of radio operations are much higher than the cost of going digital”.

“There is a growing need to go digital,” he added.

“Regular radio listeners are no longer common. Societal behavior has changed, and listening patterns have changed. Many now listen to topics that interest them at times that suit them.” 

Radio services, he said, must be developed to meet listeners’ needs. 

Digital media is quickly taking over as the dominant form of media transmission. According to a report by the Reuters Institute, broadcasters face increasing disruption with rapidly declining audiences — across all age groups — for linear news bulletins and opinion programming. 

In terms of digitization, the market is increasingly competitive. 

Political analyst Labib Kamhawi told Jordan News that, as of now, the BBC does not compete at the forefront of options. 

“There are many competitors, and the competition is intense, and the BBC entered the competition a bit late,” he said. 

BBC World Service is a global broadcaster with a weekly audience of over 300 million people, available in 41 languages. 

‘Loss for traditional media’With changing audience habits and increased online news consumption, the BBC has shifted towards a "digital-first" approach for financial reasons, including a funding freeze and rising operating costs. 

Eleven language services — Azerbaijani, Brasil, Marathi, Mundo, Punjabi, Russian, Serbian, Sinhala, Thai, Turkish, and Vietnamese — have already transitioned to digital-only.

Abu Hilala affirmed that the BBC can advance in digital media as it has a historic presence and a strong archive. 

“We are facing a new type of media, and we do not know what it is until now,” he said. “Any experimentation is subject to success or failure.”

Ramadan Rawashdeh told Jordan News that the closure of BBC Radio is “a loss for traditional media, as the BBC radio was characterized by its professionalism”.

“I am certain that the digital launch will be strong … it was necessary to move (to digital).”

Decreasing soft powerSince the announcement of the BBC’s axing of its Arabic broadcast, many have voiced that this presents Britain's shrinking political role in the Middle East and North African region.

Kamhawi stated that BBC’s radio station had “a historical tie linked to British colonialism in the region.”

It later turned into a main destination for Arab and international listeners wanting to know the latest about the region, he added, as there was a “blackout among Arab media”.

“The BBC became the chosen outlet for many Arabs who wanted the correct information without obfuscation and manipulation,” he added. 

The broadcast, said Nidal Mansour, president of the Center for Defending Freedom of Journalists, was linked to the listeners' “conscience and political awareness, especially to those listening during the media blackout.”

“It was a haven,” he added. 

“I am quite sad over its closure,” he said. “We are losing something that existed prominently throughout our history.”

‘Here is London’ While the BBC insisted that no language services would close, the final “Here is London” brought tears to some eyes. 

Jim Muir, a BBC correspondent to the Middle East, tweeted: “Tears in my eyes as I listen to the last broadcast by @BBCArabic, closing down after 85 years. It meant so much to so many people here over the decades. Now the airwaves are dead. End of an era.”

Kamhawi noted that it became expected for “intellectuals and the BBC Arabic broadcast to have a relationship”. 

“The BCC radio was less biased and offered more credibility, while Arab stations were saying what officials wanted,” he said.

Journalist Khaled Al-Qudah shared this sadness. 

“Switching between radio stations and not hearing ‘Here is London’, was quite sad,” he said. 

“The station is historic for us. Our ancestors used to listen to it because of the trust it built,” he added. 

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