Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Written Evidence

Written evidence submitted by BBC World Service


    —  In the Balkans there is an increased need for informed analysis of the impact of change—political, economic and social—covering both international and domestic news, particularly in countries where the media is still comparatively tightly controlled by the state.

    —  The BBC World Service's role remains largely, but not solely, that of a "trusted guide", not just to global events but also to the politics of this complex area.

    —  The BBC seeks to reach its audience through English programmes on radio, television and the Internet. However in countries where use of English is not yet high, the audience is reached primarily through the radio offer in the vernacular languages.

    —  The BBC World Service provides programmes in English, Albanian, Croatian, Macedonian and Serbian to the Balkans.

    —  Radio content is based on a core of news and current affairs programmes, enhanced by strong regional journalism delivering expertise and analysis. A major theme of the output is reporting and explaining wider European issues, such as migration, economic development and harmonisation of laws within EU regulations, and setting them in a global context.

    —  The region aims to get closer to its audiences. Some European languages are spoken in a number of countries. Each community has different needs. The World Service responds by providing special programming.

    —  We actively target opinion formers and decision makers, both for English and vernacular languages, and amongst those groups we are performing better than our international radio competitors.

    —  The aim is to provide the key audience of cosmopolitan and aspirant audience with authoritative and reliable news and current affairs coverage of the region, and the wider European and international agenda.

    —  None of the countries to which the services are broadcast had a press rated as free by the 2004 Freedom House Press Freedom rankings, all are ranked as partly free. Public broadcasting in Albania and Serbia Montenegro remains state run.

    —  Domestic media in the region is not able to provide in-depth coverage of international and European events, that BBC World Service access to the BBC range of newsgathering correspondents worldwide allows it to do.

    —  In the past year the World Service in all its languages has provided its audience with extensive coverage of events in Iraq and the EU accession and constitution debate.

    —  The World Service's European analysts are widely used to explain, clarify and demystify European issues: Gabriel Partos for coverage of the Balkans and Jan Repa on Central Europe. And the complex issues of the EU have been explained to listeners by Oana Lungescu, the dedicated Regional Correspondent in Brussels.

    —  All of countries served by the language services, except for Serbia Montenegro, have forces serving in either Iraq of Afghanistan. Croatia is fully engaged in the process of joining the EU and Macedonia has formally applied for membership.

    —  This year promises to be a significant one for the region with local elections in both Kosovo and Serbia, and possible a general election in the latter and a referendum on the decentralisation bill in Macedonia. The services plan extensive coverage of these events as well as key broader European issues eg the continued trials at The Hague and the decision over Turkish membership of the EU.

    —  On the international agenda as well as News and Current Affairs coverage for the US Elections in English the Albanian, Croatian and Serbian Services will all be reporting from Washington and elsewhere in the US.


    —  During times of conflict in the Balkans, domestic media were used as propaganda tools by authorities; however some countries are now beginning to experience a period of relative freedom from political censorship. The media market in the Balkans has generally developed, although at varying rates.

    —  There have been some positive developments towards the advancement of a fair media environment. In some places, bias and censorship appear to be decreasing and the media is freer than in the past. In places such as Serbia and Albania a large number of pirate radio and TV stations have emerged; often offering entertainment programming. However this creates very variable standards of news reporting, as well as regulatory chaos. This in turn can create an environment in which it is difficult for the BBC to acquire licences for its own FM frequencies.

    —  Radio listening throughout the Balkan region is generally very high, with a mix of state and commercial radio. Music stations are popular, although many broadcast no news. Traditionally, demand for international news was very weak prior to the regional ethnic crises in the 1990s, although international events led broadcasters to increase their output in this region. Nevertheless, direct international radio listening remains a niche activity.

    —  The internet is not highly developed in this region, mainly due to low in-home PC/telephone line access, and has been developing more slowly than expected, although many young people have access via schools, universities and Internet cafes. Mobile telephony is growing fast as a potential medium.


    —  Throughout Europe, the BBC's radio output is complemented by a strong online offer. All language sections run online sites: some, including Albanian, are regularly updated with news whereas others concentrate on background, analysis and special programmes. The English pages (at are highly developed, with a range of in-depth information and analysis with significant input from the regional teams.

    —  In some areas, such as Kosovo and Albania, whose populations are among the youngest in Europe, we aim to attract the younger listener as part of our audience mix—the aspirant who seeks information to be connected with the latest developments in international politics, finance, arts and sciences.

    —  For instance, the Albanian Service targets audiences in Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia; while all programmes cover three countries and beyond, each is tilted towards the needs of a specific audience: the dawn programme focuses mainly on Albania (with a live link to Tirana) and the lunch programme targets mainly Kosovo/Macedonia (with live links to Pristina/Skopje).


    —  Recent activities of many international broadcasters in Europe have been characterised by budget cuts and subsequent reductions in language services.
LanguageWeekly hours of output
English168168 168
Albanian1310.5 17.53.5
(TV 3.5) (TV 3.5)
Macedonian57.5 6.256.5
14.7514 1488
(TV 3.5) (TV 7.5)(S. Slavic)*

* Mixed language programming

    —  In terms of hours broadcast, the World Service has a strong and competitive offer against its international competitors.

    —  In an increasingly competitive market, all World Service languages focus on a strong offer at key listening times, morning and evening drive time.

    —  In addition to the languages above, VoA, DW and RFE all carry programming in Bosnian. BBC World Service closed its programmes for Bosnia (2 x 15 mins daily) as they had little impact.

    —  VoA has daily television programmes in both Albanian and Serbian. DW has a weekly EU-orientated magazine programme in Serbian, and broadcasts special television programmes on European issues through a co-operation with Albanian TV.


  The media market continues to be fragmented along ethnic lines. There is a plethora of outlets with over 180 TV and radio stations serving a population of 5 million. Most independent outlets concentrate on music and light entertainment.

  The US-supported international broadcasters and Deutsche Welle broadcast in the Bosnian language on both radio and television and they are all reasonably successful.

  The BBC has never broadcast in the Bosnian language. In 2003, the BBC also took the decision to stop producing programmes in Croatian specifically targeted at a Bosnian audience. At that time, the BBC Croatian Service produced 2x15 minutes daily aimed at Bosnia; the weekly reach of those programmes was around 1%.

  BBC Serbian and general Croatian programmes are available through a network of re-broadcasters in Bosnia.


    —  All language sections run online sites bringing background information and audio. Some have a limited news service.

    —  The European Online team and Specialist Unit work with language sections to produce in-house specials, to adapt News Online features for European pages and to produce online picture galleries. Stories have included the Serbian elections.

    —  We have also increased interactivity—all languages run interactive forums.

    —  Our English audio is also available streamed via Yahoo!, and dozens of public radio stations link directly to the site.


    —  Working closely with the World Service Trust in the Balkans, we have an active role in providing programming in the vernacular languages which help bringing Europe closer to countries which are not on the EU Accession first wave list, eg Albania, Macedonia.

    —  We will continue to develop journalist training programmes to assist strengthening of media organisations, thus helping to develop civic society.


    —  The World Service targets opinion formers and decision makers across Europe, and we are performing strongly against our main international competitors in the region.

    —  In many of these areas—we have a significant overall reach of more than 5%.


    —  In Albania we reach 8% weekly via Tirana 103.9 FM. We are rebroadcast via over 20 stations including Regional Public Radio.

    —  The Albanian Service has reached an entirely new audience through its programme Auditorium—a version of Question Time, which has not only been broadcast on Radio but also on Television by the country's top commercial channel Top TV. The programme was recorded in six cities across the country. It's the first time Albanian politicians have participated in such a format taking questions of which they did not have prior notice.


    —  In Kosovo we have a healthy reach of over 12% via Prishtina 98.6 FM and rebroadcasting agreements via two national networks and local stations in the Albanian language and via a station in Mitrovica in the Serbian language.

    —  The language services have had considerable success in the past year in reaching out to new audiences, the Croatian and Serbian services have secured FM distribution in Zagreb and Belgrade.


    —  In the Croatian case this is via Otvotreni radio the country's largest commercial national network with over 12 stations.


    —  In the Serbian case it is via a new programme offer, particularly a new drivetime programme, on a rented FM frequency in Belgrade. Its morning current affairs programme is broadcast by the capital's leading independent radio station B92 and its network of 40 stations.

    —  The reach in Serbia at just under 5% is a respectable performance given the fragmentation of the market and the ferocity of international competition.


    —  Strong partnerships in Macedonia have been maintained. In Macedonian with the National Radio and 20 local radio stations which gains a reach of 12%. In Albanian via National radio and Radio Tetovo which claims a reach of 9%. And in English via Classic FM in Skopje for a small but important number of English speaking listeners.

BBC World

    —  As well as the BBC's radio and online offers, BBC World television is broadcast throughout the region via satellite, and can be accessed by around 60.5 million homes.

    —  Although timely and relevant content is key to retaining audiences, the delivery mix is also of major importance. A strong FM and medium wave presence is vital, and developing partnerships with local broadcasters is a key component of our delivery strategy.

    —  We are strengthening our business development expertise to enable us to take full advantage of opportunities as they arise, especially those which occur as a result of relationships which BBC World television has established.

    —  The new BBC World Service and Global News Division has given us the opportunity to focus closely on achieving a complementary radio, television and online offer throughout the region.


Deutsche Welle

    —  In 2001, DW made efforts to improve its radio presence in the Balkans. The German Ministry for Economic Co-operation and Development, in conjunction with the Stability Pact for South-eastern Europe provided the Macedonian government with

    750,000 to refurbish the country's most important medium wave broadcasting service, which transmits DW radio programmes in exchange.

    —  DW's Macedonian service expanded to two hours daily in March 2001. DW also launched transmissions in Kosovo in October of the same year, on its own VHF relay.

Radio Free Europe

    —  RFE/RL announced budget cuts in February 2003 which will eventually lead to closure of a number of European language services including Croatian, but not any other Balkan languages.

    —  RFE/RL started broadcasting in Macedonian in September 2001.


    —  The need to maintain a good range of distribution methods both through re-broadcasters and through a network of our own FM frequencies. The media market in the Balkans is very fragmented.

    —  The challenges posed by Government intervention and official regulation For example, under political pressure, Macedonian National Radio dropped the BBC for a time three years ago at the height of the inter-communal conflict. However, BBC programmes were later re-instated and this must be seen as a testament to their popularity, balance and objectivity.

    —  The role of television may play in undermining radio audiences. In markets where our competitors have developed a television offer in the vernacular languages (for example VoA in Albanian and Serbian) they are performing particularly strongly.

    —  The speed of new media development.

  The World Service invested new funds to the region in 2000 and is confident that that investment will safeguard our current strong position. We have no plans to make any significant changes.

BBC World Service

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Prepared 23 February 2005