EC OKs Arabic version of EuroNews

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BRUSSELS -- The European Commission has given the green light to an Arabic-language version of pan-European news channel EuroNews in a bid to boost ties with the Arab and Muslim world.

EU Communication Commissioner Margot Wallstrom, who will confirm the move next week, is expected to say that the Arabic-language broadcasts will be important in "building bridges" with Muslims living within the EU as well as those in Muslim countries on Europe's rim.

There are an estimated 10 million Arabic speakers (and about 20 million Muslims) in the EU, and current immigration and demographic trends suggest those figures could double over the next generation while the overall European population remains static.

Wallstrom will formally confirm the decision in a response to a joint letter the EC received last month from the European ministers of France, Italy and Spain -- respectively, Catherine Colonna, Emma Bonino and Alberto Navarro. The three ministers have argued that a EuroNews channel in Arabic would be the most efficient source of continuous information for Muslims, even though some Arab TV channels broadcast in European languages.

The EC is poised to provide a grant of €5 million ($6.7 million) a year for the Arabic service to join the seven other languages offered by EuroNews. The European Parliament already has voted for a €5 million increase in the 2007 budget for multimedia initiatives with the Mediterranean countries.

EuroNews, run by a consortium of 11 public broadcasters, claims it has now overtaken CNN and BBC World as Europe's primary news channel. It also has a global reach, with distribution to almost 16 million households in the Middle East and Africa in addition to its 140 million European homes.

Because it is broadcast in seven languages -- English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish -- EuroNews often has no on-screen anchors but rather uses voice-over narration to accompany the news footage.
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