BBC Arabic owes journalists ‘thousands of dollars’ after three years’ unpaid fees
One contributor accused the channel, which is part of the UK licence fee-funded World Service, of withholding $10,000
Journalists, analysts and correspondents have alleged that BBC Arabic owes them thousands of dollars for work dating as far back as 2019.
BBC Arabic, part of the UK licence fee-funded World Service, is accused of withholding money from a reporter in a war zone as well as experts and commentators in the US.
It comes after veteran US-based analyst and broadcaster Mehdi Eliefifi interrupted his latest interview with BBC Arabic to make an on-air protest.
Eliefifi, a frequent contributor to BBC bureaus and other regional and international Arabic-speaking broadcasters, was invited on air on 20 January to give analysis of President Biden’s comments on the unfolding Russia-Ukraine conflict. Instead Eliefifi confronted the presenter.
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“The most important topic I would like to address is that the BBC hasn’t paid me for two years,” he said. “How can the BBC tolerate this?”
He raised a piece of paper to the camera that delivered his message in both Arabic and English: “Where is my money?”
Also typed in English were the names of Edgard Jallad and Tamer Abdelwahab, editor and assistant editor of BBC Arabic, respectively.
Eliefifi told openDemocracy he was owed about $10,000 in total for appearances dating back to 2019.
The BBC told openDemocracy it would not comment on individual claims. But in a statement, it apologised to all those waiting for delayed payments and said it was “working hard to solve this case as soon as possible”.
After the video of Eliefifi’s protest went viral in the Middle East and North Africa, several other journalists claimed similar experiences with BBC Arabic.
Ahmed Fathi, a US-based UN correspondent who says he has contributed analysis for BBC Arabic “maybe hundreds of times” since 2017, described eventually “giving up” trying to claim payments.
“We found they were always changing the people and the numbers, whether it's the landline or cell,” he told openDemocracy. “The booking agents are just enablers. You don't have any access to their management. You don't have any access to a central figure that you can talk through issues with.”
Fathi shared the video of Eliefifi’s protest on Twitter, captioned: “I stand in solidarity with @MehdiEliefifi.”
Fathi said he had “no issue with [the BBC’s] editorial policy”, adding he had relied on the corporation’s international broadcasts while growing up in Cairo.
“My relationships with the outside world were with the BBC World Service and [US state-owned broadcaster] Voice of America before the internet and satellite television,” he said, “so this has an emotional impact for me.
“I opted not to take further communications from them regarding bookings and appearances, and they got the message.”
Fathi estimates that BBC Arabic owes him several thousands of dollars from appearances over two or three years.
Eliefifi says that when COVID-19 hit, there was a new excuse for delays to the payments he was still chasing. “Then came 2020 and the COVID thing, so now they are telling me: ‘We're sorry. We have lost a lot of people. People are working from home. We have a mess in accounting…’”
He said producers used the corporation’s international reputation to reassure him: “‘We are the BBC – we’re gonna pay you.’”
All sources reported experiencing a similar process: contact from BBC Arabic, often over the phone and at short notice, with only verbal agreements about payment made by a producer. On chasing payment, they would be asked to fill out a vendor form, but would hear nothing back. On chasing the form, excuses would be that something on the form, such as bank or address details, was incorrect.
The BBC was always changing the people and the numbers... You can't access a central figure to talk through issues with
In some cases, this process would repeat for a number of years, involving contacts at several different bureaus – many of whom were genuinely trying to help by passing contributors to new accounts departments.
Fatma Eddaama, a Palestinian freelance journalist based in the Gaza Strip, who has worked with BBC Arabic since 2017, was promised a $30 fee for each of her interactions, including reporting in the middle of a war zone in Gaza.
“During the last war on the [Gaza] Strip in May 2021, I was in danger many times. When I asked for my dues, they did not respond to me [...] They informed me that it is not necessary to record the dates of my work, because they were recording them.”
She has not received any payment since 2019. Eddaama added she is hopeful that BBC Arabic will “abide by their promises to pay”.
BBC Arabic responded through Twitter, initially stating the BBC “does not pay any direct payment to participate in its news programmes, but sometimes offers a specified token amount for guest time”.
When it was pointed out that these token payments had not been received, comments on the tweet were quickly turned off.
BBC Arabic later published a new response, apologising to those affected and claiming the organisation was “aware of a technical defect in the payment mechanism within the institution”.
Eliefifi said he received a phone call the day after his protest from a BBC Arabic producer assuring him he would be paid. But as of Friday, he has not yet received the money he is owed
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