Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20
TUESDAY 7 MAY 2002
20. Effectively what you are doing is training
your own competition, as it were, the people who are going to
set up radio stations and broadcast in competition with you in
(Mr Byford) We do that. Sometimes members of the Committee
have asked us that in the past, "Are you not therefore eating
at your own impact", but we see that as part of our role.
Obviously, at a time of deep civil unrest or conflict, we are
providing the information source, but through our reconstruction
programme we are there to help and support, if you like, those
people to build their own capability.
21. As a matter of interest, irrelevant now
of course, did the Taliban not try and jam you?
(Mr Byford) Not that I know of.
22. Were there sanctions by the Taliban against
heads of households who insisted on tuning into the World Service?
(Mr Byford) I think it would be right to say that
going round saying "I am a regular listener to the BBC"
was not a thing which was well heard. I do not know of any direct
evidence. I can give you a note on that from the head of the Eurasia
Region, who would know that for sure, but certainly during my
period I have never had anyone come to me and say that the services
in Afghanistan have been jammed. We did have a correspondent thrown
out of Afghanistan after our reporting of the Buddha statues being
destroyed, and we are pleased she is now back in again but, to
repeat, I do not know of any instance where we have been jammed.
23. How many staff do you have in Afghanistan?
(Mr Byford) We have in Kabul today two correspondents
working, one for radio and one for television. We have a large
number of staff who were working in Peshawar for the Afghan education
project, who are likely to be now moving back into Kabul itself;
upwards of a hundred staff working on those wider projects. We
have Persian and Pashto producers now based in Afghanistan as
well working for the Service.
24. Given the clear importance that you have
demonstrated you know of, that the Pashto, Arabic, Persian and
Urdu expansion in the area has had a very important effect, are
you confident that that funding will continue? Obviously, you
had the immediate £3 million from the Foreign Office which
enabled you to go in after 11 September, but it is not good enough
to say, "We have done that, off we go somewhere else",
you have to keep that up. Are you confident you will get it?
(Mr Byford) I am hopeful. I would certainly agree
with you 100 per cent the importance and the impact of those services
are extraordinarily high. That is why they are such a key priority
for our overall three year spending review as well, but obviously
that comes into being from 2003, so it is absolutely critical
the momentum and the impact we have already been able to generate
on top of what was already a large impact in the area can be sustained
in the coming year.
Chairman: On the Taliban, I heard from your
predecessor that the Taliban actually appeared on the World Service
after some difficulty because they refused to speak to a woman
in Bush House and eventually, when they were told they could only
speak to a woman, they relented and did indeed appear on the World
Sir John Stanley
25. Mr Byford, as I have understood the position,
you have made a bid for, in ball park terms, £75 million
by way of increased operating funds and capital funds over the
three financial years, 2003-04 to 2005-06, and you have done this
to achieve the outcomes which you have set out on page 6 of your
memorandum. What I am not clear about is the numerical basis we
are standing at now in terms of those outcomes. For example, you
say that you are in agreement with the FCO you are going to attract
global World Service radio audiences of 153 million listeners
per week. What is the figure today that is the equivalent of that
(Mr Byford) 150 million. Our record audience of 153
million was last year, the highest audience the World Service
had ever had. Because of steep declining radio listening in India
overall, that has had some effect on our own radio listening in
India which has brought down the overall global figure. So when
we submitted this document, before we received our overall global
figure this year, it was standing at 153 million and we were saying
as part of this plan, obviously in a world where there will be
even greater competition and greater market deregulation and choice,
we would aim to achieve that figure or the highest figure we could
get in this current three year plan.
26. So you are saying to us that the 75 million
extra that you are bidding for does not achieve any material increase
in the worldwide listenership to the World Service?
(Mr Byford) We are saying as a minimum it will hold
the position at a time of increased competition and choice, that
if we are able to increase that figure as well, we will want to
hold on to that increased figure over the current three year plan.
But it is realistic, rather than to say, "We can go higher
and higher and higher", in that world where we are seeingand
India is a good exampleexplosion of choice, decline in
radio listening, that to hold that position would be strong. Also
the actual bid for 75 million over those three years is not only
about the global radio audience, it is about increasing our FM
presence across the world, which is absolutely vital to hold our
audience position, and in order to increase our impact and strength
on line on the Internet.
27. I understand that. Let us just take the
other two numerical figures you have agreed with the Foreign Office.
What is the equivalent figure to the 200 million monthly page
impressions by 2006 that you have today from the global World
Service on-line traffic?
(Mr Byford) 75 million today. We had a target of achieving
50 million page impressions by the end of last year, 2001-02.
At the moment it stands at 75 million page impressions. We have
received an annual growth rate of 92 per cent on that last year.
We are saying that by the end of the 2005-06 period, we will have
increased that from the present position to 200 million.
28. How far is that actually investment-related
or just simply a reflection of increased use of existing facilities?
(Mr Byford) Four or five years ago, we had no internet
presence. The current three year plan takes us into all our radio
services being available on-line and we are developing world-class
sites in a number of key languages. What we are saying as part
of this plan is that in the major language services that the World
Service is providing, not just English but Arabic, Chinese, Russian,
Spanish, Portuguese, Hindi, Urdu, Persian, these services because
they have been launched cannot stand still. They must be strengthened
and replenished all the time. Secondly, we want to create new
interactive forums. The great thing about the internet is of course
you are able to interact with it, so the more we are able to create
these forums where world leaders appear, whether it is General
Musharraf or Hamid Karzai as last week, through the World Service
they will be generators of traffic too. So it is building the
strength in our overall on-line sites, improving interactivity,
as well as obviously an increase in the take-up of people connected
to the internet over that period, which we believe will mean the
World Service is able to generate that amount of traffic.
29. Fine, but the actual capital investment
and on-going expenditure that is required to do that must be a
relatively small proportion of that 75 million you have been referring
(Mr Byford) It is just under 10 million pounds, it
is 9.3 million by the third year, building from in the first year
1 million. The majority of our investments is in geo-political
content development, around extending our programming in South
West Asia for Afghanistan and to the Middle East, for improving
our content programming for Africa, a new business programme for
China and East Asia in the context of China joining the World
Trade Organisation. In terms of content investments that is the
main bulk. We are also wanting to extend our FM presence across
the world and the on-line investments, as I say, by year three
will be 9.3 million pounds. So looking at the overall total of
35, one can work it out it would be about 25 per cent.
30. Can I just come to the other figure which
is given in terms of your outcomes. You say you are going to achieve
by 2006 FM presence across the world in at least 145 capitals,
75 per cent of the global total, what is the number of capitals
as of today where you have an FM facility?
(Mr Byford) Last year we were present in 120 capital
cities. At the end of this year, we are in 129 capital cities
of the world. As I say, we hope to extend that presence to more
than 75 per cent and have 145 by 2006. I think I am right in saying
there are 183 capitals in the world and it is harder and harder
to extend that presence, or we would have done it before. So building
the presence from where we are today, from 128, 129 capital cities,
to 145 will be extraordinarily toughthat is a very tough
target to setbut we are determined to do it, because if
we build our presence in major conurbations and capital cities
in the world, not only will we be able to hold our audience but,
critically, to reach opinion-formers and decision-makers in those
capital cities, they will expect an audibility of FM quality.
31. It does seem to me from this exchange that
a substantial proportion of the extra investment which you are
seeking is really being used to protect your existing position.
Basically it is defensive, and I understand that, against increasing
competition. From the figures you have given, the numerical uplift
and the outcomes for 2006 compared to what we are today is relatively
small. I wonder if you could explain this to us further. There
is clearly a substantial competition which you are now facing,
where is it coming from, how threatening is it and how do you
justify such a very large amount of taxpayers' money going essentially
into protecting your existing market share rather than substantially
enhancing it in numerical terms?
(Mr Byford) The World Service is a global leader,
that is its position today, and this strategy states that by 2006
we want to hold that position, if not build on it, as a global
leader in radio and on-line in a world of truly exploding competition.
Sometimes people say our competition is Voice of America, Radio
France International, Deutsche Welle. They are, but they are our
traditional international radio competition. Our competition is
everything; it is anything where audiences across the world want
a source of information and education but primarily information.
All sources are, if you like, competition to us, not just those
international radio broadcasters, and the World Service has to
stand out for being special, distinctive, high quality, trusted,
but with a depth, reliability and quality of journalism that is
second-to-none. We are saying in this strategy that as the world
order, if you like, dramatically moves forward, there are key
areas of the world where the World Service has to extend its offer
and its coverage in order to produce impact. That is why we have
said in content terms we want to develop in Afghanistan and the
Middle East. We have a strong news and current affairs presence
in Africa but we want to develop our presence in development programmes
for Africa to build audience. We want to build audience in China
on the back of that daily business programme for East Asia. But
it is absolutely critical as well that in terms of delivery we
are able to extend our presence in FM. You said it was a defensive
position, the actual challenges we face to produce these challenging
targets are extremely challenging. All round the world wherever
you are but chiefly in the developing world as markets deregulate,
listeners have much greater choice and enjoy much stronger audibility
than they have before. A World Service which stands still will
decline, it will decline quite severely. These investments we
have put in we think are rather modest investments but for very
large impact. It is an overall 3.6 per cent real terms growth
so it is a realistic bid which would retain the World Service
as a world leader making fantastic impact across the world.
32. Are you saying to us that people more and
more are getting the information and sometimes the audio transmissions
through the internet system and are becoming less and less inclined
to turn on the radio?
(Mr Byford) I think that will be a long, long journey.
What we are seeing, even in the United Kingdom, in a world of
multi-choice television and the internet is radio listening still
being as high as ever. It is interesting that in the world we
face, our radio listening figures remain still extraordinarily
high, but we know the internet is complementary to our radio offer;
it is a global medium, a simple click of a mouse means you can
get audio in minimum medium wave quality sound, one can interact
as we have shown over the last year, it is a really important
dimension we want to develop. But our context is that we face
huge competition everywhere across the world, most importantly
in the developing world where, as I say, radio listener choice
is much greater, and we are saying the World Service still has
a major role to play in being a trusted broadcaster par excellence
but it has to extend its services to perform and especially its
33. Before we turn to on-line, Sir John and
I have one or two questions on the categories of geographical
outreach in terms of Europe and China. We have tried to understand
the various jargon categories which the World Service has. Aspirants
are those who aspire to improve their lives and for whom the World
Service offers a vital link to the wider world; the cosmopolitans
are highly educated decision makers and opinion formers; and the
information poor are audiences who are deprived of free information
for either political or economic reasons. Turning to Europe and
the EU enlargement area, we note, for example, that in the last
year you appear not to have achieved your targets in respect of
the Czech Republic. You aim to achieve a weekly audience among
aspirants in the Czech Republic of eight per cent and in the sample
group you achieved merely 2.7 per cent. Is that general for the
Central European countries and how do you intend therefore to
increase the reach of the World Service not only to the decision
makers but also to the aspirants?
(Mr Byford) I am sorry and forgive me if it sounds
like jargon. That is the last thing it is meant to do. What we
are trying to do with our audience groups is not see them all
as the same. It would be quite wrong for the World Service to
say we are trying to reach audiences wherever they are and whoever
they are and whoever we get, then fine. What we are disciplined
about is segmenting the markets across the world, trying to work
out which audience groups we are trying to reach, and then reaching
34. What are the factors which determine whether
you go for decision makers or the information poor and what is
in the UK interest in respect of those?
(Mr Byford) On the first part of the question we say
that we want to attract opinion formers and decision makerscosmopolitansacross
the whole worldin the most developed areas of the world,
the developing world and the least developed world. The aspirants,
which are people who aspire to a global view, would come to the
World Service because they want to inform themselves about the
way world is moving, how it affects their own lives and they aspire
to that, hence why they will connect with the World Service. As
well as opinion formers and decision makers that group is a key
group for us in the developing world and in the least developed
world not only do we want to attract those two groups but we also
want to attract the information poor as wellpeople who
would come to the World Service for a core primary service of
information. Afghanistan would be a very good example of that.
35. There are not many on-line in Afghanistan.
(Mr Byford) No, we definitely accept that. We say
that our primary source of broadcast into Afghanistan is through
short wave and medium wave radio and in Persian and Pashto. In
the United States, for instance, we are not saying we are trying
to reach everybody. We are not stopping people listening but our
target audience group there would be decision makers and opinion
formers. It would be the same in Europe whereas in other areas
of the worldSomalia or Afghanistanthere would be
a much broader groupings of audiences that we go for.
36. I can understand it is in the national interest
to contact potential buyers in Austin or wherever. Is it in our
national interest also that you reach into poor farmers in the
(Mr Byford) As I said before, it is not our target
audience group in the United States in the most mature broadcasting
market-place in the world for us to be able to say we are providing
everybody with information they would not get anywhere else. What
we are really saying there, although we would not stop anyone
listening, is that it is the breadth, the depth, the expertise
and the calibre of our programming that will be attractive to
opinion formers and decision makers. That is why one in four opinion
formers and decision makers in Boston, Washington and New York
overall are listening to the World Service every week, a staggering
figure. That is why we segment the audience groups in that way.
On the second part of the question which was?
37. In India there has been a decline in those
who are listening to the World Service. If that decline were only
in the opinion formers then one would be worried, so are you able
to be more precise to show what is in our interest?
(Mr Byford) We are. We segment our audiences as well
and increasingly will do so to judge whether we are reaching the
audiences that we are trying to reach. You talked about the Czech
Republic. We have relaunched our programming and based much of
our staff in Prague over the last two years and strengthened Czech
programming with a flagship news, current affairs and analysis
programme at breakfast focussed on an international agenda complemented
by an English service which has seen our overall reach tripled
from five per cent to 15 per cent in Prague. We have also been
able to extend our FM audibility across the whole of the country.
That combination of strengthening our programming and improving
our audibility has seen a very substantial increase in our impact
among cosmopolitans and aspirants.
Sir John Stanley
38. On China can you tell the Committee whether
it is your policy still to report on internal developments in
China which would be viewed by the Chinese Government as having
a political hue, issues such as what is going on in Tibet, those
who are fighting for free, non-state trade unions in China, those
who are fighting for freedom of religious expression, those who
are seeking to engage in peaceful protest. Is it still the BBC
World Service's policy to attempt to broadcast with its usually
factual objectivity events that are in its view newsworthy that
are taking place inside China and to broadcast that towards those
who can attempt to try and listen in China?
(Mr Byford) Without question yes.
39. And what is your current view as to whether
the Chinese authorities are having partial or near total success
in jamming your broadcasts of that nature?
(Mr Byford) Firstly to re-emphasise your own words
of fair, objective reporting, that must be the framework within
which the World Service is broadcasting to listeners in China.
It is not a propaganda machine itself, it is there to provide
accurate, trusted information, information that they may not be
able to get from other sources. The Chinese authorities have in
the past always denied that they jam our services, as you know,
but there is still strong evidence that the Mandarin service is
jammed in China, the English not so.
1 Note by witness: So looking at the overall
total of 35 million pounds by year three, one can calculate it
would be about 25 per cent of the total investments. Back