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CNBC Arabiya – the Debut

Of all the many shiny and twinkly things in today's Dubai, CNBC Arabiya, the ingénue on the Gulf's satellite stage, may be the shiniest and most twinkly. After only ten weeks of full-time operation (CNBC Arabiya went on air officially on July 27, 2003), the channel believes that it has firmly secured the niche that it foresaw for itself as the first 24-hour business channel in Arabic, and has some achievements to crow about to boot.

A tour of the premises—CNBC Arabiya occupies one-and-a-half floors of one of Dubai Media City's newer buildings—reveals dimly-lit editing rooms illumined by the jewel-like lights of several million dollars-worth of state-of-the-art equipment alongside coolly sophisticated studios, airy offices where the scent of new wood still lingers, and a beehive of young editors, technicians, and administrators, hailing from many countries within and beyond the Arab World. There is innovation too, with "low res" tape sharing permitting faster, more efficient, and even more democratic, editing.

Not that the channel is over-equipped or over-staffed. Chairman and CEO Zafar Siddiqi is quick to point out that he runs a "lean" operation and that it was the channel's ability to produce so much with so little that intrigued Dubai's crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum when visited for the formal opening—a visit that, Siddiqi is proud to note, lasted an hour and a half even though the premises can be viewed in five or six minutes.

The World Bank/IMF conference, held in Dubai September 21-23, 2003, provided another opportunity for the channel to show its mettle. Edmonds believes that the channel's strategy, which approached the conference as a chance to buttonhole on camera more than 50 of the finance ministers, central bank directors, trade delegation heads, and international organization heads whose decisions will impact of the region's economy distinguished its coverage from that of its competitors, who treated the conference as a simple news event. This serious approach won CNBC Arabiya the praise of both their public and their peers.

CNBC is launched, then, not with a splash, but with a smooth, confident, and apparently very competent, glide.

TBS visited CNBC Arabiya on October 4, 2003.

About Humphrey Davies

Humphrey Davies is TBS managing editor.

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