Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Third Report

8 The British Council and the BBC World Service

244. A crucial means to export the values espoused by the United Kingdom in the region is through the British Council and the BBC World Service. For instance, the British Council in Serbia and Montenegro offers access to a library and support for educational opportunities in the United Kingdom. Over the last year, the British Council has also opened a new office in Podgorica, which will support the reform effort in Montenegro, while the Belgrade office has received awards from the Serbian Ministry of Culture for its contributions to education. The British Council in Serbia also supports co-operation between the National and Royal National Theatres in the United Kingdom and directors and writers in Serbia, works closely with the Serbian media, and has organised conferences which bring together young people from throughout the region, as part of broader efforts to ensure the stability of and improve civil society in the Western Balkans.[305] Commenting on the work of the British Council, the Minister said: "The British Council is extremely active in Belgrade and I pay tribute to their work." [306]

245. We conclude that the work of the British Council in the Balkans is essential and we commend the good work of its Belgrade office, for instance by bringing young people from across the region together in conferences. We urge the British Council to expand this work, and to increase educational opportunities in areas necessary for the effective development of the Balkans, such as those relating to good governance.

246. The BBC World Service played a key role in the dissemination of balanced information during the conflicts of the 1990s, when local media output often consisted of little more than government propaganda.[307] Since the fall of Milosevic, the quality of media in the region has improved, although the World Service continues to set the highest standards of journalism for emulation in the Western Balkans. Currently, the BBC provides programming for broadcast on Serbian radio station B92, in Kosovo via Pristina 98.6 FM, in Croatia via Otvotreni, and in Macedonia with the National Radio.[308] However, the BBC has never broadcast in Bosnia and we heard in Sarajevo that politicians would appreciate BBC programming. Competitors in the region include Detusche Welle and Radio Free Europe, although its Balkan language output is scant. We also heard that regulatory frameworks for media in the Balkans were imperfect, and that problems with the media today include the allocation of frequencies for broadcast and the regulation of media ownership.

247. We conclude that the BBC World Service's contribution to broadcasting in the Balkans is most commendable. However, we regret the lack of Bosnian programming; we urge the BBC to expand its coverage to include Bosnia and Herzegovina. We also recommend that the BBC and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office work together with the governments in the region to improve the regulatory framework for the media, for instance by providing technical expertise to help Belgrade simplify the allocation of radio frequencies in Serbia.

305   Ev 98 Back

306   Ev 83 Back

307   Ev 141 Back

308   Ibid. Back

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Prepared 23 February 2005