Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120
TUESDAY 30 JANUARY 2001
MR M BYFORD
120. Things are not totally critically costed.
(Mr Hind) They are costed and it is done on the basis
of fair values. We look at the value to Radio Four, the value
to the World Service and the equations are broadly equal and we
are happy with that.
121. I am sorry to be flippant but I cannot
bear the jingle on your 1am news.
(Mr Byford) It depends which one you are listening
to. If you are listening to the World Today, which you would sometimes
listen to, you may not like that jingle, but then again others
122. I am a 1am listener. Let us go back to
Serbia. When Milosevic turned you off, do you know what sort of
audience you managed to maintain through short wave?
(Mr Byford) No, I do not specifically know because
there has not been specific audience research.
123. Any anecdotal evidence?
(Mr Byford) What we do know and what I am very conscious
of is that our Serbian audience has been in decline because of
only being on short wave. A person behind me has been leading
a strategy task force on our future Balkans provision, where it
is clear to us that not only do we have to look at the right content
in the new regime, but also increasing audibility, as I stressed
to you before; not just to hold our audience, but to build again.
I cannot give you a specific, that we lost X by them pulling rebroadcasters.
Most certainly it would have been more difficult to listen, but
one could argue that it was even more important that the World
Service was listened to during that period as well. I shall obviously
bring the next research programme we do in Serbia to the Committee
and you will know where we are.
124. During the war itself do you know whether
you suffered as a result of the unpopularity of the bombing and
were you seen as the enemy? Did you receive any comments?
(Mr Byford) We had some specific e-mails welcoming
the objectivity and impartiality of the World Service in what
was a conflict which was also involving NATO and the British Government.
I remember on the first night of the bombing one direct e-mail
coming from Belgrade welcoming the impartiality and impact of
the World Service. For me that is obviously very cheering to read.
During that period listenership to the World Service will have
been higher because what people want in that period is the ability
to come to us with our reputation for objectivity and impartiality
and listen. It will not be everybody, but there will be more people
125. Did you receive any criticism from the
British Government or from NATO about your editorials and the
information you were providing?
(Mr Byford) Personally, to me, no.
126. Not you personally but were there no representations
that you were impartial?
(Mr Byford) There were plenty of representations to
the BBC during that period as there are from any politicians,
but there was nothing to me about the World Service output and
I would, as you would expect, defend that resolutely. That is
the absolute essence of the Service.
127. Your impartiality would be more ensured
if you had had some complaints from NATO.
(Mr Byford) Sometimes it is argued among journalists
that if you do not get complaints it is either that they are not
listening themselves or that you are not important. What we would
not want to have is pressure in terms of our output being determined.
That is what I think Mr Rowlands is getting at. Absolutely not
128. There was none.
(Mr Byford) Absolutely not.
129. So you managed to hold this balance successfully
in a wartime situation in terms of both your audience, as best
you could, and also the degree of impartiality and independence
which is seen. Are there any other occasions in the last two or
three years where you have been cut off as dramatically as Milosevic
cut you off?
(Mr Byford) In terms of FM or medium wave we have
had an issue with the Uzbek service.
(Mr Hind) In the Congo 18 months or so ago we were
taken off FM overnight.
130. What prompted that? A broadcast you did
about the situation?
(Mr Hind) No, just the civil instability in Kinshasa,
131. That was a physical thing, that was not
a conscious decision by Kabila.
(Mr Hind) No.
(Mr Byford) I can think of none off hand where we
have. There is one thing I would say to the Committee which is
very, very important and rightly emphasised by yourself. No FM
rebroadcasting deal is worth compromising our values, ever, ever.
Through Mr Hind, Mr Chapman my deputy, who police each and every
rebroadcasting deal very, very carefully, we go into that with
our eyes clearly open. If it meant that we should have in any
way to compromise editorial output, we should come off it and
remain on short wave because the values of the Service are more
valuable than any delivery mechanism.
132. Even in the case of a really big audience
(Mr Byford) Absolutely. I have said to all my staff
and I say it to myself that the values of the World Service are
non-negotiable. Accuracy, impartiality, objectivity, trust is
what makes or breaks this Service. If anyone ever said we had
increased our audience by half a million but lost the very things
we stood for, I think we would be finished.
Sir John Stanley
133. That is a very good lead-in to a very broad
policy issue I want to raise with you which is the contribution
of the World Service to international media freedom. As you have
said, the foundation of the World Service's repute round the world,
which certainly in our Committee's view in successive reports
is a greater repute than any other radio broadcasting organisation,
is grounded on your reputation for accuracy and objectivity and
total freedom from any political slant. Around the world sadly
there are very considerable numbers of very brave people in the
journalistic and media profession who are on the line in terms
of their physical security, even life as was shown during the
Kosovo campaign and certainly those risking major jail sentences
for trying to reflect the sort of values which you take as the
basis for your own organisation. As an organisation, do you think
that your contribution to media freedom round the world is sufficient
just simply by you being there? Do you regard that as a sufficient
discharge of your responsibilities or do you have within your
policy any sort of role which you are seeking to play as a massively
influential organisation in the worldwide campaign to try to establish
media freedom worldwide? Is that part of your agenda or not? Do
you contribute to the various international media and journalistic
organisations who campaign, for example, for media freedom?
(Mr Byford) It is a very good question. Firstly, the
World Service itself, and what I mean by that is our radio output
and our internet coverage, has to be careful not to be a campaigning
organisation. We have to be careful in that because the very act
of impartiality means being careful about campaigning about whatever.
Obviously openness, freedom, lack of freedom in terms of press,
is something which is of value for the World Service so my first
answer is that by the very act of the World Service and its esteem
one hopes we are contributing to that openness. There is no question
about that. That is the impact of the World Service in many of
these suppressed areas. The World Service Trust, which is a complementary
trust foundation for the World Service, does do other work outside
of straight content in terms of journalistic values, journalistic
debate, whether it is in Nigeria, whether it is in central Africa,
whether it is in the Balkans. Through the Trust and our journalism
training programmes we hold workshops, seminars, training programmes,
which do discuss openness, democratic society, civil societies,
election coverage, all those things which are done outside of
the output itself, but using the esteem of the World Service brand
and our knowledge and expertise through the Trust to then enable
areas around the world and fellow journalists, not to be taught
by us, but to discuss with us and understand our experiences,
our values, our ethics.
134. Coming back to this issue of media freedom
and your own staff, you were asked earlier about the instances
where you had actually been shut down for political reasons. You
said these are very small in number.
(Mr Byford) On FM.
135. To get a fully balanced picture, is it
not the case that there is a significant number of countries round
the world where BBC World Service correspondents cannot get access?
For example, try to tell us how much access you get in a place
like Iraq. In the countries where you do have correspondents,
can you tell the Committee how commonplace it is that your staff
get threatened, pressurised, told that if they go down particular
routes, they will not be able to get government consent or government
passes to travel to different parts of the country? There are
all sorts of ways in which you can apply pressures and sanctions
against individual journalists who are trying to do their job
in a particular country. What are the countries where you find
those sorts of devices of negotiation combined with threat against
your individual correspondents to try to pressurise them to avoid
particular areas which the government in question would rather
not have exposed?
(Mr Byford) On the specific of Iraq, we do broadcast
from Baghdad with our own reporters at times. We obviously have
to get visa access in as well, but it is not an area we have never
broadcast from in the last two years. Indeed we did some recent
coverage from Baghdad itself on the tenth anniversary of the Gulf
War. Some of our journalists are put under pressure by the environments
they work in, not just in their ability to have access across
a place, but also pressure in telling their stories. They themselves
have as much commitment, if not probably more, in the face of
the field than our goodselves in that commitment never to compromise
their own journalistic standards. On specific countries where
there has been direct pressure in the last year, I cannot give
a case example to be honest but I can certainly let you know,
in liaison with my own newsgathering teams, whether there are
specifics where things have been compromised in terms of journey,
access to the country.
136. Do you have occasion where you have journalists
who are nationals of the particular country, resident in their
own country, who get intimidatory threats which may be directed
against members of their family in consequence of what they themselves
may have reported?
(Mr Byford) Yes. We had a circumstance which I am
still having discussions about which indeed involved a death in
Sri Lanka of one of our stringer reporters after his house had
been attacked. They are the kind of pressures that some of our
people are put under. Obviously our own teams and our regional
heads are accessible for advice when that happens to people in
137. When you get these blatant pressures to
try to intimidate members of your own staff or threaten them or
possibly even commit acts of violence against them, is that an
issue which you as an organisation try to deal with directly with
the government in question or do you involve the British Government?
Is that a plus or a minus to involve your host government? I can
see you could argue it both ways, but I should be interested to
know what your policy is. If it is to involve the British Government,
how satisfied are you with the degree of support you get from
HMG in post when you are trying to seek their help in supporting
your journalists who may be coming under harassment, threat or
(Mr Byford) You are right to bring out the challenge
and dilemma. If one of your key values is independence and impartiality,
then you have to be careful about utilising the British Government
to get your voice heard. On the other hand, if one of our correspondents"if"
is the key wordis under deep pressure or has been attacked
and the British Ambassador does not even know, I would say that
there is a point of information alone, he or she should know about
it. The first premise would be that the BBC World Service and
the BBC itself would be communicating with that government first
hand about what it was facing.
138. It would be very helpful if we could take
up Mr Byford's offer to provide a further paper to the Committee
with some actual details of the way in which their own staff may
have come under pressure or threat, perhaps coupling with that
the obvious point that if there are specific points that they
would not wish to have published in the interests of protecting
the individuals concerned and they indicated that I think the
Committee would understand that absolutely.
(Mr Byford) If you do not mind me saying, I am pleased
Sir John has made the latter point as well, because that obviously
is a factor in being able to be fully open.
139. Flowing from that, and it relates to an
earlier inquiry we undertook and questions put down at the time,
I understand there was a correspondentand I understand
a correspondent is not an employee but somebody who is an agency
member of staff, I assume ...
(Mr Byford) It depends who it is.