Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from BBC World Television

  1.  In response to your letter of 22 November, 2001, I am writing to provide you with the evidence you request on BBC World's policy on television news coverage in the US, particularly following the events of 11 September. We are concerned to hear about the dismay expressed in the viewpoint you have received, particularly as we have not received any similar comments whatsoever regarding our US coverage post-September 11.


BBC World in the US

  2.  As you know, BBC World is the BBC's 24-hour international news and information television channel, distributed to 180 million homes in 200 countries and territories around the world. In the US, BBC World news bulletins are available across the US on public broadcast stations through an agreement with the New York-based station, WLIW21. BBC World news bulletins are also carried at least four times a day on BBC America, the BBC's bespoke entertainment channel for the US market.

Our action post 11 September

  3.  In the immediate aftermath, BBC America carried continuous coverage of the attacks by switching to BBC World's rolling news for 48 hours without interruption. This is available to about 22 million households across the US.

  4.  WLIW21 New York also made available BBC World's continuous coverage of the attacks to the 134 public television stations across the US that carry BBC World news bulletins. This was the first time that the channel has been made available in its entirety throughout America. Over 30 additional PBS stations also took our feed as a result of the events of September 11—and have now signed on permanently for the channel (a reflection of the quality of its content).

  5.  Requests for permission to relay our channel were also received from broadcasters in every region of the world. It is estimated that since the news broke, an additional 77 million households carried our continuous news output. Of these, 30 million extra homes were added in the US through our granting of permission to relay the channel to the Learning Channel (USA Cable Network) across the States.

Comments received re quality of coverage

  6.  It would be fair to say that we have not received any negative feedback on our coverage or availability in the US post September 11. Rather, we have had extensive positive feedback praising the coverage. As evidence to support this claim, we can provide the following (attached):

    —  emails from public television stations across the US, praising both the quality of the news and the channel's availability

    —  email feedback from viewers across the US (and across the world) thanking us for our unbiased, accurate and informed news. In the two weeks following 11 September, 48 per cent of all emails praising the channel came from the US.

    —  press coverage in the US (and elsewhere) uniformly praising the quality of BBC World's coverage.

  7.  You will understand our confusion at the allegations referred to in your letter, given this overwhelmingly positive feedback. In response to the specific "failures" described,

    —  "the failure to provide a bespoke news service for viewers in the US": BBC World's remit is to provide a global channel with a global news agenda for its genuinely global audience—our policy is to provide the same news content everywhere. You will see from the evidence above that the channel made every effort to make its continuous news available to the widest possible audience at such a crucial time—providing immediate free licences to all broadcasters who requested permission to relay the channel—with an estimated 300 million additional viewers having access to our continuous coverage.

    —  "the failure to make full use of the BBC's worldwide news resources": as you will see from the positive feedback provided, one of the strengths of BBC World's news coverage that viewers have appreciated has been its world view, with our unparalleled network of correspondents round the globe. We have anchored live from Islamabad and Washington, with correspondents reporting from Quetta, Jerusalem, New York, Oman, Peshawar, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tadjikistan, Baghdad, to name a few highlights—using the resources of BBC News to the full. Indeed much of the praise from the US specifically thanked the BBC for providing a global perspective, in contrast to the US centred views available on all other channels.

  We would be happy to provide you with any further background on this.

BBC World

November 2001

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Prepared 18 December 2001