Britain's publicly funded broadcaster, the BBC, is launching an Arabic-language television news and information service in the Middle East.

The corporation's iconic World Service will close ten foreign language radio services - most within the former eastern European bloc - to pay for the new £19 million ($33m; €28m) channel.

The BBC Arabic Television Service will begin broadcasting in 2007 - initially for 12 hours a day - and will be freely available to those with satellite or cable connections in the region.

Hosam el-Sokkari, head of the BBC's Arabic Service, says there is no political motive behind the new channel. It will be "there to inform, educate and entertain, not to take part in the political process".

The controversial Al-Jazeera TV station, which is viewed by some in the West as a platform for Islamic terrorists, welcomes the BBC's arrival in the region.

Says Al-Jazeera London bureau chief Yosri Fouda: "Al-Jazeera's main enemy has been a lack of another Al-Jazeera." He believes the BBC will carry forward a change in culture across the region in favour of free speech and accountability.

Data sourced from New York Times; additional content by WARC staff