Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Written evidence submitted by BBC World Service



  South Africa is home to many of the continent's major media companies, and its broadcasters and publications reflect the diversity of the population as a whole. The BBC operates its Africa newsgathering co-ordination centre for radio and TV from Johannesburg. The Africa Bureau was established in the early 70s, and is one of the BBC's seven major newsgathering "hubs" located around the world. The Bureau provides news coverage for World Service radio, BBC World television, the BBC's International Facing Online News Site and the domestic channels.

  Although the impact of the World Service has, in recent years, been limited in South Africa for reasons detailed below, the BBC recognised the need to adapt to the changing market following deregulation. It has established a good relationship with SABC, the home broadcaster, which has enabled the World Service to be heard by a wider audience than previously reached.

  The reach of BBC World has been enhanced through a digital TV agreement, and a rebroadcasting arrangement with SABC.

  The BBC is also making inroads into the emerging internet market—it has headline syndication deals in place with the largest Internet Service Provider in the country, and with two leading websites.

  The strong regional programming produced for World Service radio and BBC World television has been a key factor in reaching new audiences through these recent negotiations.


  The South African constitution provides for freedom of the press, and this is generally respected in practice. Laws, regulation and political control of media content are considered to be moderate and there is little evidence of repressive measures against journalists.

  Newspapers and magazines publish reports and comment critical of the government and the state-owned SABC is far more independent now than during the apartheid era.


  Post-apartheid the South African government has been keen to decentralise control of the radio and TV market. Deregulation in 1996 led to a proliferation of private radio stations to compete with the overwhelmingly state-oriented broadcasting system. Listeners in Johannesburg alone can now choose from among some 40 radio services, from the national broadcasts of the reformed state-owned South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) to community stations targeting local neighbourhoods or ethnic groups.

  Prior to deregulation, the apartheid government made great efforts to deliver pro-government radio services through high quality FM networks, and as a result, short wave listening did not develop as in other parts of Africa, where domestic services were, and to some extent still are, delivered mainly via shortwave.

  South Africa represents a large radio market with 22.9 million adults listening in a typical week. Just over 16 million of these radio listeners can understand at least some English. In comparison with television, with print media, radio remains the most powerful medium.

  The World Service delivers its programmes via SABC (through a recently signed new agreement with the corporation—further details are given below), by shortwave, through partnerships with some local FM stations, and via audio channels on Multichoice.


  Well-established state-run and commercial TV networks broadcast nationally, and hundreds of thousands of viewers subscribe to pay-TV services operated by the major cable and satellite company MultiChoice. SABC operates three national TV networks and two pay-TV channels. 13.4% of the population have access to television.

  BBC World is available on digital television and there are also morning and evening rebroadcasts of BBC World news sequences every day on SABC 3 TV.


  In June 2000, President Thabo Mbeki set up an international information technology council to help Africa bridge the "digital divide". Africa has only 0.6% of the world's internet users and two-thirds of them are in South Africa, which amounts to just over 7% of the population. 10% of the population have mobile phones. The BBC is making headway into this market with deals recently struck with M-Web, the largest Internet Service Provider in the country, amongst others. It is also exploring the possibility of a mobile phone deal.

  Full details of the BBC's radio, TV and online offer to South Africa, and its newsgathering strength there, are set out below.



  The World Service broadcasts in English to South Africa 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Special regional programmes for Africa are broadcast on the English Service for over five hours a day every weekday and over two hours on Saturdays and Sundays.

  African news features daily in the well established and respected news and current affairs programmes, Focus on Africa, (broadcast three times a day during the week, one edition at weekends) that offers evening news and analysis from the region, and Network Africa (broadcast five times a day weekdays) that produces a morning mix of rolling news, analysis, sport, features and music.

  Africa Live, launched in June this year, is an interactive programme that gets to the heart of Africa and the continent's issues, and encourages listeners to phone in, email and text the programme with comments. This programme was set up using extra Grant-in-Aid funds allocated to the World Service for broadcasting to Africa in the Spending Review 2002—it aims to tackle grassroot problems specific to Africa and offers positive solutions and guidance on the way forward. The programme has discussed development issues which have resonance for South Africa such as the Brian Drain, the treatment of refugees and foreigners, Africa's Airline industry, the drug industry and the politics of Water. The programme has ensured that South Africans are very much part of the discussion. One such example was when Africa Live discussed the merits of African inventions. The programme linked up with Don Pilkington, Managing Director, South African Institute of Inventors, who was able to offer advice to inventors across the continent on how to get patents etc.

  Africa Live was also invited to go global as part of the World Service's 70th anniversary celebrations. Table Mountain in Cape Town, the location of World Service's first Outside Broadcast in 1933, was the venue for Global Live. From the top of the mountain World Service presenters linked live to callers around the world for a 14-hour broadcast.

  Other regional programmes include African Perspective, a weekly programme which takes an in-depth look at life in Africa. Fastrack is a popular sports programme that reports on Africa's sports results, and provides analysis and interviews—it recently interviewed the South African winner of the women's high jump competition at the World Athletics in Paris.

  Talking Point—the WS global phone-in programme that gives listeners and internet users the opportunity to put questions to guests—was joined from the Aids Conference in Durban in August by South African Minister of Health Mantombazana Tshabalala-Msimang and Stephen Lewis UNAIDS envoy for HIV/Aids in Africa.

  The African Service also strives to reflect South African culture on its airwaves. Each year the World Service holds a playwriting competition and this year the second prize winner came from South Africa. Soldier Boy, was a powerful drama set in South Africa during the Angola border war and recorded entirely on location in Kwazulu Natal. The plays companion programme heard from two ex-combatants, one from the SADF, the other from MK the armed wing of the ANC.

  Coming up in November this year, as part of the HIV/Aids programme season, the World Service has been granted rights to broadcast the Nelson Mandela Foundation concert from Cape Town which aims to raise awareness about HIV and to help South African victims of Aids. The programme will feature an address by Nelson Mandela, as well as world-class musical performances and contributions from key celebrities and political figures.


  The World Service can be heard 24 hours a day across South Africa via short wave.

  In 2002 the BBC signed a new agreement with SABC, which allows SABC to use news items from the World Service in their own output—properly credited. In addition to news items, sports and features are also relayed on the English FM network of SABC.

  SABC also has an extensive network of FM stations broadcasting in local languages—World Service news items and despatches are used on these African language FM networks, with an appropriate translation in to the relevant local language.

  The World Service has several local partner stations: Radio Khwezi in Kranskop (Zulu Natal) and Good News Community Radio in Durban are community stations that run some BBC output. Bush Radio in Cape Town also takes World Service programming, including some English teaching.

  World Service can also be received 24 hours a day via Multichoice (satellite TV) as an audio channel throughout South Africa.

  In April 2001, MultiChoice Africa and the BBC World Service renewed their long-standing agreement to broadcast the BBC throughout the continent of Africa. This agreement extended the broadcast rights of BBC World Service for an additional five years, and included the 50 countries in which MultiChoice Africa was currently operating. The service enables subscribers to MultiChoice Africa's premium DStv bouquet to listen to BBC World Service 1, 2 and 3 channels via their decoders.

  Additionally, World Service is available as a 24 hour service on the digital satellite channel Worldspace.

  Michel Lobelle, Broadcasting Manager for the Africa/Middle East Region, has been based in Cape Town for the last two years, and has made significant progress in developing rebroadcasting opportunities in Southern Africa.


  BBC has traditionally had very small radio audiences in South Africa compared to the rest of Africa. In late 1995, when the World Service last commissioned a survey, BBC World Service on short wave was reaching approximately 310,000 weekly listeners (2.4% of the population).

   In addition, the weekly audience on SAFM in English is about 700,000. All SABC African networks represent cumulative weekly audiences of about 30 million. The World Service does not include any of these figures in its estimated audience for the BBC because the news items are usually short and the BBC specifies a minimum duration before counting the listeners in to its figures. However, the arrangement clearly helps the BBC with its profile in South Africa.

  The BBC does not have recent audience figures for listening to BBC via individual community stations.

  Audience research carried out by Roper Starch in 1998 revealed that most people associate the name "BBC" with TV.


  The Johannesburg Bureau, run by Bureau Chief Milton Nkosi, is the BBC's radio, television and online bureau for Africa. Three correspondents, two main producers, a television crew, two African service stringers and occasional casual staff operate from the bureau. There is a small but very busy radio studio, and one of the busiest television edit suites amongst international bureau in Africa. A lot of the work produced is for World Service radio and domestic news. Local translators, fixers and technicians are employed for teams coming out from London.

  The bureau, established in the early 70s, has seen many well-known correspondents come through it—Michael Burke, Fergal Keane, Jeremy Vine, George Alagiah, Rageh Omar, Allan Little, Jane Standley among them.

  A range of freelance crews work closely with the Africa bureau—its coverage stretches throughout sub-Saharan Africa. In recent weeks teams have covered the Liberia civil war and the subsequent departure of former president Charles Taylor, and the Africa tour by President Bush was covered in all the countries he visited. A year ago the bureau, with the help of colleagues from London, covered the biggest conference on earth, the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

  The bureau has also been the base for BBC reporters previously working in Zimbabwe. Since early 2001 when new media laws were introduced in that country, and the BBC's own correspondent was expelled, the BBC and all foreign journalists have been prevented from having a permanent reporting presence there. However, as Zimbabwe continues to be a major story, the BBC has sought to ensure that it is covered in the depth and breadth that it warrants, making use of the facilities available at the Johannesburg office.

  Productions range from day to day news coverage to Newsnights, Panoramas, documentaries and Correspondent. The popular BBC World magazine programme, Africa Direct, is produced from the bureau—it shows a different Africa from the usual news material. Short films about what Africans are doing to improve their lives are also produced from the bureau.

  The countries reported from in the last year include: South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Angola, Mozambique, Dem Rep Congo (Kinshasa), Rwanda, Burundi, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Madagascar, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Somaliland, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Benin, Guinea-Bissau, Ghana, Niger, Liberia, Gambia, Malawi and Djibouti.


  BBC World is available as a full 24 - 7 service on the DSTV digital pay service to 880,000 subscribers.

  A late night and early morning BBC World News bulletin is rebroadcast on SABC3, who also carry a selection of BBC World programmes overnight—taken from the previous day's output. The arrangement with BBC World to rebroadcast simultaneous News Bulletins and selected programmes, replaced the agreement that SABC previously had with competitors CNN. An agreement is also in place for SABC to simultaneously use BBC World's Breaking News, on any of their terrestrial channels.

  BBC World and CNN are equally popular on the DSTV line up.


  The BBC has a headline syndication deal in place with M-Web, the largest Internet Service Provider in the country, which provides access to the BBC's online services. Headline syndication deals are also in place with, which is the biggest portal, and, which is the biggest search engine.

  These three websites display continually updated headline feeds from BBC News Online. Each headline links to the full story on the BBC website.

  Data gathered for August this year indicated that traffic from South Africa for the World Service and the BBC's International Facing Site amounted to about 1.17 million page impressions. That figure does not include traffic from South Africa for other parts of the BBC site.

  The BBC is also exploring the possibility of a mobile phone deal, which would enable mobile phone users to receive BBC news bulletins via text messages directly to their phones.

BBC World Service

October 2003


  As you may be aware, the Foreign Affairs Committee recently visited South Africa as part of its current inquiry into UK-South African relations. During the visit we had the pleasure of meeting Mr Milton Nkosi and some of his staff at your bureau in Johannesburg. We were, as ever, very pleased to see the valuable work being done by the Service's staff.

  Following our visit, the Committee had a number of questions concerning the BBC World Service's broadcasts in Swahili:


    What is the estimated number of speakers of Swahili as a first language in Africa?


    For how long does the BBC World Service broadcast in Swahili each day at present?


    What is the estimated number of listeners to the BBCWS's Swahili service?


    Could you provide details of the Swahili service provided by other national radio services, particularly those of the USA, France, Germany and China?


    Does the World Service have any plans to make changes to its Swahili service in the near future.

  Were it possible to receive an answer to these points by Friday 12 March, I would be very grateful. If your staff would like any clarification on these matters, please do not hesitate to contact the Second Clerk of the Committee, Geoffrey Farrar (020 7219 3309 /

Rt Hon Donald Anderson MP

Chairman of the Committee

24 February 2004


  Thank you for recent inquiry. I am delighted to hear that you enjoyed your meeting with Milton and the other staff in our Johannesburg bureau and that the Committee could see that part of the World Service's work first hand.

  The answers to the Committee's five questions:

    1.   What is the estimated number of speakers of Swahili as a first language in Africa?

A.  There are approximately 100 million Swahili speakers, of whom about 25 million speak it as their first language.

    2.   For how long does the BBC World Service broadcast in Swahili each day at present?

A.  Presently BBC Swahili transmits five programmes a day.

    —  Two half hour current affairs programmes in the morning;

    —  Five minutes lunch time news bulletin;

    —  60 minutes of current affairs in the afternoon; and

    —  15 minutes of African news in the evening.

A total of two hours and 20 minutes everyday on a week-day (Monday—Friday)

On Saturdays we broadcast for two hours and on Sundays for 2 hours and 30 minutes. Weekend programming includes 45 minutes each weekend devoted to programming about learning English.

    3.   What is the estimated number of listeners to the BBC WS's Swahili service?

A.  The current weekly measured audience for Swahili is 18.4 million which includes listening in—DR Congo, Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda.

    4.   Could you provide details of the Swahili service by other national radio services, particularly those of the USA, France, Germany and China?

A.  International Broadcasters in Swahili include Voice of Germany (Deutsche Welle), Voice of America, Radio China, Radio Japan, Radio Iran, Radio Egypt, Radio Nigeria and Channel Africa (South Africa Broadcasting Corporation). Deutsche Welle and Voice of America are the two main traditional competitors. The Kenya Broadcast Corporation broadcasts on SW and also has a sizeable audience. Radio China, Voice of Nigeria and Radio Cairo also broadcast in Swahili but have niche audiences. The others mentioned would also have minimal audiences.

By way of comparison the respective weekly measured listening figures in the three main countries are as follows (some of those surveyed would listen to more than one service):


World Service

59.8% listening weekly (11.5 millions)

Deutsche Welle


Voice of America



World Service

31% listening weekly (5.6 millions)

Deutsche Welle


Voice of America



World Service

7.5% listening weekly (0.9 millions)

Deutsche Welle


Voice of America


    5.   Does the World Service have any plans to make changes to its Swahili service in the near future?

A.  The World Service is planning to improve its audibility still further by increasing the number of FM transmissions in most of the target areas especially Southern Tanzania and other major towns in Kenya. I appreciate that the Committee's agenda has been particularly busy of late and that the Easter Recess is fast approaching but I am keen that the Committee be kept fully abreast of the World Service's activities and plans. With this in mind I was wondering if the Committee would like to visit Bush House after Easter so that I can brief them about the challenges facing the World Service and our exciting plans to meet them.

Nigel Chapman

Acting Director

BBC World Service

11 March 2004

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