Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40
TUESDAY 7 MAY 2002
(Mr Byford) Yes.
41. So it is a 100 per cent blackout?
(Mr Byford) I do not think that would be accurate.
Again I will give you an absolutely precise brief on that from
the head of the Chinese service and our own technical staff, but
it is absolutely clear that the Mandarin service itself is still
subject to jamming which is more than just periodic. I am not
sure if it is absolutely all the time but the English service
is not jammed. It is also difficult to access our web sites in
China from within China.
42. If you can give us a further note as to
the degree of success from their own standpoint that the Chinese
Government are or are not achieving in jamming both your Mandarin
service and the web sites, we would be glad to receive it. Obviously
if there is any information in that that you wish the Committee
to treat as confidential you are able to make appropriate arrangements
to do that.
(Mr Byford) I appreciate that, Sir John. What I would
say again is that we are determined to produce our material and
to try and get it to as many listeners in China as possible. We
accept that we have challenges within that framework but we are
determined to do so.
Sir John Stanley: I am delighted to hear it.
43. Your service is seeking extra operating
funds of £16.9 million over the spending review period to
fund on line investment. Do you think this on line development
is targeting cosmopolitans at the expense of the aspirants and
the information poor?
(Mr Byford) No I do not. If you look at the World
Service four or five years ago the Internet was at its birth for
us as a broadcasting medium and the World Service quickly recognised
that it was going to be an important complement but never a replacement
to the radio. It is interesting that even two years ago we were
spending less than one per cent of our overall funding on the
Internet. By the end of this period in 2006 we will still be spending
less than ten per cent of our overall budget on the internet.
I think it is around nine per cent by the end of the third year.
44. What is the total BBC budget?
(Mr Byford) The total of our own?
45. No, the total BBC budget. It appears to
me that you are doing a little bit of duplicating with other BBC
(Mr Byford) We are definitely not doing that because
our investments go into language services which I have indicated
to you today enable all 43 of our audio services available on
line, creating world-class web sites in Arabic, Russian, Chinese,
Spanish, Portuguese Hindi and Urdu. Those services are not funded
at all by the licence fee. Where there could be some duplication
in the English offer there is absolutely clear delineation between
the BBC domestically and ourselves in that we are funding international
news and information, which is our goal. For us the Internet is
something that we want to complement radio. This strategy is not
saying this is the really important thing, let us forget radio,
far, far from it. Much of the investments you can see here today
are about strengthening our radio impact and presence. I hope
you would agree that the internet has been a very important dimension
for us. We are now voted the best Arabic news site in the world.
If we had not established an Arabic news site, CNN only recently
establishing one, you would rightly say why have we not got into
this important medium to complement radio. We are doing it seriously
but still recognising that the vast majority of our money will
be going into radio.
46. Can you give us one example of how on line
developments have targeted aspirants and the information poor?
(Mr Byford) I do not think we are necessarily today
targeting the information poor with our Internet offer. We recognise
that today in 2002, there are nearly 500 million people connected
to the net. Over the next three to four years that will reach
well over a billion and those people will be in the cosmopolitan
and aspirant groups. The vast majority of people connected to
the net today are in the most developed areas of the world but,
to go to the Chairman's point of reaching opinion formers and
decision makers, people are using the net wherever they are in
the world. One of the things that I remember in the context of
11 September (and I think I am right in saying that Mr Hind was
there with the head of our Africa and Middle East Service) in
Kinshasa that week we saw Joseph Kabila was using the BBC World
Service web site to find the very latest news. To say our primary
source of reaching people is the internet in that area would be
completely wrong, but there will be certain groups such as opinion
formers and decision makers across the whole world now that are
using the internet site and increasingly so.
47. Do you not think there is a danger that
when you have an on-line forum on the Internet on your web site
that you are just encouraging people to share their prejudices?
(Mr Byford) There is a danger of that. I will come
in with Mr Chapman who runs the new media services for the World
Service and in fact established the BBC's overall on-line service,
so he is hugely experienced in this. We try to ensure in a context
of openness and freedom that people are allowed to have their
say, but at the end of the day we have got to also have proper
editorial supervision. The greater strength is that people are
able through the World Service on the Internet to engage in these
discussions and debates about key global issues and themes through
a forum on the World Service that they would not be able to do
anywhere else. If we are able to have Hamid Karzai, King Abdullah
of Jordan, Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki through the World Service
not just talking to the people of South Africa or Afghanistan
but the whole world, who are able to answer them in an open discussion
and debate, and for those debates to then be a permanent record
of source material for you, me and for listeners and users across
the world, I think that is marvellous.
(Mr Chapman) We have to take considerable care in
moderating contributions that people make to our on-line sites.
48. That implies that you do not put every contribution
on to the site?
(Mr Chapman) That is correct. There has to be some
selectivity here. You can end up libelling somebody. We are publishing
the whole way round the world. You could easily libel somebody
if you let everybody put up what they wanted by making some completely
inappropriate comment or some religious prejudice which would
be inflammatory and illegal in some countries. Great care has
to be taken. The other point I would say is we are in the infancy
and on the early learning slopes in terms of the whole business
of world fora. On your point about combatting prejudice and misunderstanding,
one of the main thrusts of this CSR set of proposals is to increase
those world fora so we can have contributions from experts and
academics in, effectively an on-air, on-line "think tank"
which will then help people understand better these complicated
issues. It is more than people posting their comments. It is helping
them to understand the context of some very complicated issues.
That is the thrust of a lot of the on-line proposals.
49. Are you not going to get a lot of disagreements
if somebody who is not an expert but simply has a view, albeit
it may be a prejudiced view, puts that view down, and it is not
libellousalthough how you determine the laws of libel around
the world when they are so different I do not know, but they try
time and time again to put their view to you and it is ignored
because they are not particularly expert or leading in public
(Mr Byford) Provided they express their view in a
moderate way and take account of the sensitivities of the audiences
as a whole who are going to be using it then we are quite happy
to publish it. We do stress a diversity of views. If you look
down our web operation in any of the talking points we have been
discussing with Karzai or King Abdullah of Jordan you get an amazing
collection of opinions coming from all round the world, booth
geographically and in the range of opinion, and what it has enabled
us to do is to create a forum where diversity of views can be
expressed and a greater community established to complement traditional
radio broadcasts which tend to go to particular parts of the world
in a linear way. The net can embrace communities whether they
are the Arabic speakers in America or Saudi and create a new forum,
a new community, which I believe increases world understanding.
(Mr Byford) As Mr Chapman says, it is in the context
of openness and range of opinion which are key values to the World
Service. We would be hoping that that will be promoted through
these very fora.
50. Gentlemen, my apologies for my late arrival.
One or two of the points I am going to ask you might have been
touched on already. Coming back to the overall funding situation,
the bid for the comprehensive spending review amounts to something
like a 40 per cent increase. How confident are you of achieving
that, bearing in mind that under the last CSR review the Government
provided only two-thirds of the requested operating budget?
(Mr Byford) The overall framework of this bid is for
a 3.6 per cent real terms growth, so it is in a similar framework
to the submission that we put in the last spending review period.
I think we recognise that this spending review will be tough.
It is a spending review period that will be dominated and prioritised
around some of the key domestic spending plans, around health,
education and crime, particularly health obviously, but we are
arguing that for very modest investment overall in terms of government
spend the World Service can continue to be a global leader for
Britain. It can create a huge impact around the world in terms
of the service that it provides and that with these developments,
particularly the geo-political delivery enhancements, in FM expansion,
and our on-line developments (which in reply to Mr Olner I am
saying in the context overall are modest but vital for us) I would
be hopeful that these bids can be looked at extremely favourably
51. The Arabic service is of huge importance.
I understand that extra funding has been made available to a certain
extent for the Persian and Pashto services. Has that been consolidated
into the bid under the CSR to continue that increased level of
funding of Arabic services? How important is it as part of your
overall CSR bid?
(Mr Byford) Mr Hamilton did ask about this as well.
If I may repeat, we did receive some funding last year to enable
us to move with agility in extending the services in Arabic but
also Persian, Pashto and Urdu. This Spending Review bid starts
in 2003-04 and the central part of that development programme
for South West Asia and the Arab world is to maintain those programme
extensions and build on them with greater depth of discussion
and debate, maintain the extended programmes that we have already
produced and then in the current year that we are in now it is
important obviously in that context that these programme services
are maintained. Moreover, it does come in a context where the
Americans are investing strongly in extending their services to
the Arab world and to Afghanistan, so for the World Service to
stand still or to stop these services would be something that
we do not want to contemplate at all.
52. If there is a shortfall in the money available
in the grant how are you likely to prioritise and is that a priority
that would be continued anyway or is there a threat to it if the
funding does not meet your targets?
(Mr Byford) We would pause and think. If we did not
receive the whole of this bid that we have made today for the
three year plan, we would firstly see what the actual outcome
was and then from that work on what our top priorities would be.
If you said today which are the things from here that are likely
to drop off, I am not going to answer because I do not know. What
is clear is that the geo-political priorities for South West Asia
and the Arab worldI am sure we all agreeare absolutely
vital for the World Service. These are not "nice to haves",
they are absolutely crucial for us to maintain, as are the enhancements
53. There is European Union enlargement of course.
(Mr Byford) Everybody would say that. That is why
we would say we have made a sensible and well-focused development
bid. They are all important for the moment but what is absolutely
critical is that over this period now and during three years we
are able to extend the services as we have set out.
54. Is there any possibility of any further
(Mr Byford) That is absolutely built into this plan.
We have never said, if you do not mind me being straight, "please
just give us the money and we will invest and bring impact".
We say by investing we can create greater impact for the World
Service but at the same time we will continue our efficiency savings
programme. For the last five years we have produced, as you know,
a 15 per cent efficiency saving. 90 per of our overall budget
is now spent on content. Even in the context where we think we
are a very efficient organisation, we will continue with efficiencies
during this period in order to help, together with the investments
we hope we will win, fund the overall plan.
55. Do you think you are competing with the
British Council for the same pot of funds?
(Mr Byford) Competing is the wrong word. The British
Council and the World Service through the Foreign Office are obviously
putting in bids to government in the hope that they will realise
that both organisations are worthy of investment so there is not
a sense of us both in competition with each other. There is a
sense, I am sure you would agree, that all government departments
and the whole of government is trying to win money in order to
invest for the future. What I would say is I am responsible for
the World Service, that is what I am looking at, and we are confident
that it is a very strong bid.
56. Mr Byford, can I move on briefly to the
employment practices within the World Service. Some have accused
the World Service, as many other British institutions, of institutional
racism and sexism. Have you carried out recently a quality audit
and what measures do you take to review working practices to ensure
that you do not disadvantage any particular sections of your staff
and society generally? How many members of the board of management
are from ethnic minority backgrounds and how many heads of language
services? I am clearly not asking about individual cases.
(Mr Byford) Diversity is obviously a core value of
the World Service but it also in practice is an essential part
of the organisation itself. We believe in promoting people on
merit obviously but a diverse organisation within the World Service
is a strong organisation for the World Service and accusations
of institutional racism or colonialism is a World Service that
I simply do not recognise.
57. So institutional racism does not happen?
(Mr Byford) I do not believe so. As the leader of
the organisation I believe we are an organisation that, yes, believes
in promoting people on merit but also recognises that a diverse
World Service is a strong one. In terms of language services I
have been the Director of the World Service for less than four
years, so I stand to be corrected on what I am saying now and
I will give you a more detailed brief, but I think I am right
in saying that ten years ago the vast majority of the language
services were run by UK British citizens. Now out of 43 language
services, including English, more than 30 are run by non-British
people. On the management board of the World Service there is
work to be done. I have made it clear to all our staff that a
goal of my own in the leadership of the World Service is that
on the back of that momentum of language services themselves being
led by a much more diverse community than before that we can also
now make the overall World Service management board, where I think
I am right in saying two members of the group presently are within
the categories that you had asked, an even more diverse group
than it is today.
58. Can we not forget that of course we can
have people from minority communities but are British.
(Mr Byford) Of course.
59. I would not want to suggest for one minute
that we have to employ people who are, for example, of Persian
origin or Persian nationality simply to ensure that we have got
the diversity. We have got the diversity within the United Kingdom.
(Mr Byford) Absolutely. Within the specific categories
the BBC uses and recognises in order to declare its performance,
around 35 per cent of the staff are from ethnic minorities. It
is a much smaller percentage of the World Service management board,
but there has been huge momentum and development in the leadership
and running of the language services themselves, which I am determined
will over time then lead to a greater presence on the management
board itself. But is the World Service, to use your words, institutionally
racist? Absolutely not. We are absolutely committed to a diverse
60. Most of us who have dialects from around
the United Kingdom find the BBC a little bit difficult in moving
forward with correct presentation. Do you not suffer these same
problems within the BBC World Service?
(Mr Byford) It is important for listeners to be able
to understand the broadcast in terms of clarity but we have over
time wanted to give a greater range of voice within the English
service. Some substantial changes on that score have been made
over the last three to four years and with some success. As someone
who within the building is often described himself as having a
rather strange dialect from Yorkshire, I would want the whole
of the United Kingdom voice to be represented within the World
61. Who can criticise pure Leeds? Can I on behalf
of the Committee, Mr Byford, thank you and your colleagues and
also leave a warm glow behind by congratulating the World Service
which I believe won the prestigious 2001 award at the Sony Radio
Academy Awards on 2 May, also in particular congratulating Mr
Baqer Moin, whom Mr Hamilton also mentioned as head of Persian
and Pashto Services, who won the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association
top award of the year. Would you convey to him the congratulations
of the Committee and indeed to your colleagues.
(Mr Byford) We are very proud of those awards and
it is great that you as a Committee have said well done.
Chairman: Thank you very much. Can we have your
colleagues from the British Council to hear the view from the