Select Committee on International Development Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the BBC World Service



  During much of the last century BBC World Service stood out as a reference point in a specific context: that of a bi-polar world dominated by two superpowers. Through globalisation we are now witnessing the emergence of a new interdependent world order, profoundly affecting not only governments and companies, but whole populations. Far from being diminished, the World Service's role in this new context is crucial for the creation of a strong world community.

  The World Service provides a global public good, essential for achieving central international policy objectives: sustainable development, good governance and a strengthened international system.


  One of the issues addressed in the Government's recent White Paper on International Development is the dual nature of globalisation. How can something that began as an essentially economic phenomenon, driven by multinational companies, be made to work for the world's poor? The White Paper acknowledges that the answer is not a foregone conclusion. It is indeed possible that globalisation will leave the poor even poorer than they are today, that the divide between developed and developing nations will increase, that people in the developing world will perceive globalisation as a cultural threat that can only be countered by militant nationalism.

  How then can this be avoided? How is it possible to achieve what UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called "inclusive globalisation", where the benefits are shared by all?

  An important part of the answer must be: by complementing economic globalisation with a process of communication that bridges the divide between developed and developing countries. Without this, people in different parts of the world will be unable to place their own situation in a wider context and to understand what the new interdependence means for them. Effective communications, reliable information, an awareness of the bigger picture are also indispensable in tackling conflict, bad government, isolation and ignorance, the main obstacles in the way of economic development. In the age of globalisation it is therefore more important than ever for "nation to speak unto nation".

  Inclusiveness is at the core of the World Service's overall aim to be the world's best known and most respected international broadcaster. As a global hub for high quality information and communication, it pursues a truly global agenda in its news and information programming. The World Service does not see events and issues through the prism of euro-centrism. By combining global and regional information it ensures that it speaks to audiences across the world with authority and relevance, be they stockbrokers and UN officials in New York or refugees in Africa. Importantly, the inclusiveness referred to by Kofi Annan implies a multi-directional flow of information: the World Service not only reaches audiences in remote areas with regional and global news, often in their own language, but takes the voice of the refugee to the ears of international policy makers.

  Secondly, the World Service helps to bring about inclusive globalisation by creating a forum for debate across national, ethnic or cultural boundaries. Its regular Talking Point programme, for example, broadcast both on radio and on the internet, tackles issues such as AIDS prevention, debt relief and the international monetary institutions. It involves international experts as well as interested listeners from around the world in the debate.


  There is no doubt that radio is still by far the best means of inclusive communication—both domestically and internationally. Figures on radio penetration show that in many countries of the developing world no other medium, whether print or television, can compete with the reach of radio. High rates of illiteracy may make radio the only effective means of communication. Although short wave will remain essential in reaching many areas, local FM stations have made a massive impact in many developing countries, and the World Service is increasingly establishing a presence on FM, either on its own or in partnership with a local station. It is now present on FM in 120 of the world's capital cities. This development has been critical in enabling the World Service to achieve a record global audience of 151 million listeners in 2000-its highest audience ever.


  No other means of communication has conquered such large markets in so short a time as the internet. The internet has radically changed the availability of regional news. If, for instance, the African diaspora in the US, Europe or Australia found it almost impossible until recently to obtain reliable up-to-date news about Somalia or Sierra Leone, the internet now gives them access to the BBC's African programming, not only in English, but also in a range of other languages. By creating new communities defined by interest and by language, the internet presents a further opportunity for inclusive globalisation. The World Service aims to provide the best multi-lingual internet news site in the world with all the audio from its 43 language services made available on the internet together with eight world class 24 hour constantly updated sites in Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, Hindi/Urdu, Persian and Indonesian as well as English.


  The World Service Trust, which is funded outside the Grant in Aid, was set up to address specific development issues such as health education, strengthening civil society and media training. Amongst its recent achievements are successful campaigns to raise leprosy awareness in India and Nepal, with astonishing results: the Indian campaign reached 275 million people, 172 million changing their attitude towards leprosy.

But there are several areas in which the World Service Trust can substantially increase its work and contribute to inclusive globalisation:


  It is easy to think of areas in the world where conflict management is one of the most important tasks, whether this takes the form of conflict prevention, conflict resolution or post-conflict reconstruction. Working with local media, the World Service Trust can help to create channels of open communication through which the conflicting parties can begin to solve their disputes in non-violent ways. This is an essential precondition for economic and social development.


  Accountable democratic government, a further necessary condition for development, can only exist in a healthy local media environment. The World Service has carried out media training in several countries, notably Bosnia (for the whole of the Balkans), Nigeria, Rwanda and Indonesia. There are many more countries where the World Service Trust could be instrumental in helping to establish a democratic media environment, based on the BBC's editorial principles.


  As the leprosy awareness campaign has shown, radio is an extremely effective way of delivering health messages. The most pressing issue for many countries is HIV/AIDS, and it is here that the World Service Trust's contribution could be most valuable. The White Paper also refers to the WHO work on polio eradication, another area where the Trust could help.


  In addition there are subject areas which the World Service Trust can address through special programmes. To achieve maximum reach, these can then be broadcast by local partner stations in the local language as well as by the World Service. Series on human rights and the needs of children in conflict are two recent examples of such programming, but much more can be done on these two subjects as well as on issues such as government corruption, the empowerment of women and universal primary education.


  If, as the White Paper states, making globalisation work for the poor is the greatest challenge facing our generation, all effective instruments must be used in achieving this aim. Through its programming BBC World Service has become a world-wide reference point and forum for the debate of global issues. Together with the World Service Trust, it can help even more directly in achieving inclusive globalisation.

BBC World Service

January 2001

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