BBC launches live coverage page on Web for Egyptian crisis
The BBC launched a live events page for the Egyptian crisis that will compete head-to-head against Al Jazeera English Online's live feed. This a month after announcing wide-ranging layoffs. The BBC -- as well as NPR, CNN and every other media organization with an international footprint -- are at present the silver medalists behind Al Jazeera English Online in covering the Egypt crisis.
On Jan. 31, in the thick of the demonstrations, 45% of Al Jazeera English's web traffic was coming from America (still, most cable companies here don't carry AJE) and their live web stream was 200 times their normal traffic. Social media has been particularly riveted by any news coming out of Egypt in the last 24 hours -- two out of the Top Ten Twitter Trending Topics worldwide as I write this -- giving lots of link love to AJE.
Beyond mere editorial bragging rights at being the top broadcaster of the crisis, there is of course, a very real business component to the competition to cover the region: the Middle East is a market which all publishers, all news organizations should want to play a major part. There are about 60 million internet users in the Middle East, a region of voracious media consumption. Arabic will be Twitter's sixth foreign language interface.
So -- how does BBC's live events page match up against the present live blog heavyweight champion, Al Jazeera? On Friday I found myself clicking back-and-forth between two windows, trying to figure out which one I preferred. Each has its advantages. My first observation is that Al Jazeerra English Online has a pronounced editorial bias in favor of the demonstrators. No big surprise there, but the contrast is kind of jarring when up against the BBC. That degree of advocacy for one side is not necessarily a bad thing these days. MSNBC advocates for President Obama just as Fox News did for the previous administration.
A technical point: The BBC page has live automatic updates (more detailed than the standard news crawl) -- Al Jazeera English does not have such a feature. The BBC's "live page reporters" are Aidan Lewis, Adam Blenford, and David Gritten. These reporters offer a lively mix -- on the left side of the page beside the video feed -- of news and curated social media. The site, to be sure, is still a work-in-progress -- their digital agenda is still evolving -- but design-wise it smartly combines video, curated social media and citizen journalism.
At day's end on Friday, Egyptian TV was actually running Al Jazeera. Just a week ago, Egyptian state TV considered AJE public enemy number one. When Mubarak stepped down there was a sense -- a dramatic joy -- that Al Jazeera was not just covering the events, but that it was an active participant, along with the demonstrators, in dislodging an entrenched autocrat. As a result, Al Jazeera English has a more energetic feel, a mission, than the BBC. The BBC Live is, of course, dryer, more into reporting on events and hiding any biases in their reporters. Given that description which media organization would you rather be?
But these days in the Middle East it is hard to remain an objective observer. The BBC's extensive coverage appears to have made them a part of the unfolding drama in the Middle East. The Iranian government is now jamming their signal after an interactive show on BBC TV allowed for an open dialogue between Iranian and Egyptian viewers. "This jamming should stop immediately," Peter Horrocks, the director of the BBC World Service, told The Telegraph. "It is wrong that our significant Iranian audience is being denied impartial news and information from BBC Persian TV."