Memorandum to the Committee from the BBC World Service


Inquiry into FCO Annual Report 2007/08


The Year in Review - 2007/08


A defining year for BBC World Service


2007/08 marked the 75th anniversary of the BBC World Service and can be seen as a defining year in its history. It was a year in which, against a backdrop of changes including the launch of the BBC's first publicly funded international television news service, the highest ever levels of global radio listenership were retained after the large increases of the previous 12 months. It demonstrated the organisation's ability to innovate while retaining the affection of audiences who have been loyal to it for a large part of its history.


Key events, developments and programming


∑ The launch of BBC Arabic television in March 2008 marked the successful culmination of a four-year journey to secure funding and deliver a high-quality television service in a vital region of the world. BBC Arabic television complements revamped radio and online services, enabling the BBC to compete effectively as a trimedia broadcaster.


∑ BBC World Service celebrated its 75th anniversary in December 2007 with a special season of programmes and events on the theme "Free to Speak", which looked at the challenges for free and independent media worldwide.


∑ Other notable programming included special weeks devoted to Russia, China and Afghanistan; the Taking the Temperature season on climate change; Iraq Five Years On; coverage of the African Cup of Nations; and special programming on the global economy. In addition, there was strong coverage of crises in areas of the world including Pakistan and Burma.


∑ There was strong external vindication of the quality of the BBC's journalism and programme making when BBC World Service won nine awards at the 2008 Sony Radio Academy Awards, including four Golds. Other awards presented to programme-makers included four AIB Media Excellence Awards, two Webby Awards including the top award in the radio category for BBC World Service and The Judges' Award for Alan Johnston at the Royal Television Society TV Journalism Awards.


∑ Following discussions with the UK Government, the 2007 Spending Review granted significant extra funds over the three year period 2008/09-2010/11 including new resources to launch Persian television, develop web operations and extend the Arabic television service to a full 24/7 schedule. But it also requires BBC World Service to meet tough efficiency targets from 2008 to 2011.


∑ An independent survey carried out in the UK revealed that British tax-payers believe BBC World Service offers good value-for-money, and that many of those surveyed thought it should receive more public funding. An analysis of the results of this survey, which also covered commercially-funded BBC World News television, and the BBC's international news website (, is attached in Appendix I.




BBC World Service's global radio audience held up well in the face of stiff competition in many markets. In terms of the number of people who access the BBC every week, the target was to consolidate BBC World Service's position on radio and increase online usage significantly. These goals were broadly achieved. At 182 million, the radio audience was virtually unchanged from the record 183 million a year ago.


As always, there were ebbs and flows beneath this topline figure. The estimate for Africa and the Middle East was up three million to 86 million, with strong performances in Nigeria and Kenya. Asia Pacific audiences were down by 3.1 million to 79.1 million, a decline largely attributable to Bangladesh, where there had been a major and arguably unsustainable increase during the previous year's political unrest. However, the weekly audience in India grew by a million during the year. In Americas and Europe, audiences were down by a million.


BBC World Service's English language service attracted 40 million weekly listeners globally - up two million on last year.


Ratings for audience trust remained very positive. In a period when the BBC and commercial broadcasters in the UK had to address widespread public concern over this issue, BBC World Service's global reputation appeared unaffected. In all seven key markets surveyed, except Russia, the BBC scored highest for trust and objectivity among international broadcasters. BBC World Service also did better than domestic stations in Nigeria, Bangladesh and three Indian states where surveys took place last year. Initial feedback from an audience panel of BBC online users towards BBC Arabic television was broadly positive. Most felt it was likely they would continue to use it and recommend it to others.


Online traffic grew by over 30% across the BBC's language sites funded by Grant- in-Aid during the last financial year. More recently, in August 2008, traffic to its websites rose to a record 310 million page impressions.


Investment in 24/7 news provision contributed to the success of sites such as, which more than doubled the number of page impressions over a 12-month period in a highly competitive market. Another strong performer was BBC Urdu, which took advantage of the paucity of reliable and accessible media in Pakistan during the state of emergency in the winter of 2007 to attract new users.


Partnerships on the internet are also increasingly important - BBC Learning English content for China tripled its traffic, reaching 44 million page impressions monthly. By contrast, it was harder to make headway in South America, Russia and the Arab world with the BBC's Spanish, Russian and Arabic sites - it is not always easy to find the right opportunities for partnerships.


Across the BBC's Global News output including BBC World Service, BBC World News television and, the BBC's international-facing online news site, services maintained their record global weekly audience of over 233 million during 2007/08.


Distribution and New Media


The move into Arabic television symbolised the way BBC World Service aspires to modernise all the major language services. Long gone are the days when the BBC could simply be a radio broadcaster overseas with a single global offer. Services are now tailored to each market. Where possible and affordable, the focus is on multiple means of delivery, whether through increased FM relays, partner stations, streaming on the web, or downloadable programmes and podcasts. The necessary pace of change was maintained in the future media portfolio by extending broadband video and WAP portals for mobiles into more languages and offering podcasts of selected programmes.




BBC Arabic television launched on 11 March 2008 with opening shots of a flight up the Thames past familiar London landmarks, arriving at BBC Broadcasting House for a glimpse of the new multimedia production studios. Seventy years after making its first radio broadcast, BBC Arabic had become the most comprehensive multimedia service to the Arab world, with news and information now available on television, radio, the internet, mobiles and handheld devices.


Initially broadcasting for 12 hours a day, extending to 24/7 later in the 2008/09 financial year, the channel is freely available to any household with a satellite connection, from North Africa across to the Middle East and the Gulf. Live output, streamed through the relaunched website, can be viewed anywhere in the world.


Launching the channel was a key part of BBC World Service's strategy for 2010 and is seen as essential for future success in the Arab world, where television increasingly is the medium of choice for news. The BBC is a widely respected source. In surveys, 85% of those asked said they would watch the news service. It is hoped that some 35 million people will be using BBC Arabic across all platforms in five years' time. First results from an early survey of BBC Arabic television users in June 2008 are encouraging.


With news headlines every 15 minutes and a full summary every half hour, BBC Arabic television combines the BBC's global newsgathering resources with on-the-spot reporting. Its network of Arabic-speaking reporters and correspondents spans the Middle East as well as London, Washington and other world capitals. Around 180 new staff, many recruited from the Middle East, were introduced to new ways of working.


The new channel investigates the issues that dominate people's lives in the Middle East and the wider Arab world, from regional politics to global economics, from conflict to climate change. It is stretching the boundaries for interactive programming with the widest range of opportunities yet offered to audiences to participate in multimedia debate and discussion. The live interactive debating forum Nuqtat Hewar (Debating Point) is featured three days a week, fulfilling a commitment to bring a new dimension to debate in the region. Already popular on radio and online, the show has been adapted for television with a new multimedia format, enabling people to contribute using webcams and 3G mobile phones, as well as via email.


BBC Arabic immediately stood out in the market by offering a wider news agenda and greater depth. On the day of the TV launch, as Saudi Arabia and Qatar announced a thaw in relations, BBC Arabic analysed the origin of the rift between the two countries and the issues in dispute. In the first few weeks, BBC Arabic television debated stories ranging from an eight-year-old Yemeni's marriage annulment to growing social unrest in Egypt and the trial of Iraq's former deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz.


In another historic move, BBC Arabic became the first part of BBC World Service to leave Bush House to occupy studios in the new BBC News Centre adjoining Broadcasting House in London W1. The technology is state of the art, integrating fully digital radio, television and online production systems. The editorial and technical teams have helped to pioneer new ways of multimedia working for the whole of the BBC.


Preparations are well underway for the launch of BBC Persian television later in 2008, also based at the BBC News Centre in W1. It will provide eight hours of programming per day, focusing on news and information for Iran.


It is predicted that the channel will have strong impact in Iran. Based on market and competitor assessment and surveys carried out in Iran, BBC World Service estimate that a national weekly audience of around 8m is achievable, of which over half a million will be in Tehran.


The channel will draw a significant additional audience outside of Iran, and the aim is to reach 3-4 million viewers in Afghanistan as well as amongst the Farsi-speaking diaspora in the Gulf.


It is hoped that the channel's editorial assets, high production values and range of content will redefine the standard in Persian language television. It has the potential to bring about a qualitative change in the Iranian media landscape.


BBC Turkish also took a first step into the world of television when it launched a new current affairs programme on Turkey's leading 24-hour news channel, NTV, in June 2008. The programme DŁnya GŁndemi offers coverage of international news, focusing on issues which have a global and regional impact.


In the longer term, if BBC World Service is going to compete seriously in regions like South Asia, and in parts of Africa, it will need to offer a targeted television service there too.


Extending FM partnerships


In Africa and the Middle East, which accounts for 70% of all new Business Development investment, BBC World Service gained two million extra listeners via FM relays and 0.8 million new listeners via FM partners. In the United States, 5.3 million people listen to the BBC every week through distribution partner, PRI - the highest figure for the US to date.


BBC World Service is now available on FM in 154 capital cities, up from 152 last year.


Short wave


Short wave remains a key method of delivery in less developed parts of the world, where other means of access are not readily available, such as Africa and parts of SE Asia. Listening via short wave still accounts for over 100 million of BBC World Services' weekly 182 million figure.




In a year when Future Media teams in BBC World Service focused on building deeper relationships with global audiences, it became easier in most countries for users to access and share content on the web and other new media platforms. Websites in Arabic and English were relaunched and access to video content was improved in a range of key languages.


The new website, launched at the end of 2007, gives immediate access to a rich mix of audio content, programme information and schedules in English. The facelift was designed to make the site clearer and less cluttered. Audiences can now easily find their favourite audio on demand, as well as useful schedule information. There is added value to the user in that they are now able to experience the serendipitous nature of BBC World Service radio output on the internet. It was gratifying that the site won the category of best radio site in the world at the Webbys - the equivalent of the Oscars of the internet.


With the relaunch of to coincide with the new Arabic television channel, the website became the place where audiences can discover the full range of multimedia content now offered by the BBC in Arabic. With a new modern look, the site makes video and audio as easy to access as text.


The technology of 'embedding' video, where clips appear in the news story, making it unnecessary to launch a separate window to watch, was launched on in January 2008. This service has been extended to the Spanish and Russian language sites and will be extended to other major language sites in the next few months. It offers the same user experience as websites such as and most major news sites. The broadband video offer is available in six languages, and take-up levels are encouraging.


Increased interactivity enabled BBC World Service to develop a deeper, richer relationship with BBC audiences. Increased functionality gave users more opportunities to discuss issues among themselves as well as giving their viewpoints in BBC debates. Multimedia votes will be available with the relaunch of later in the year. These use a mixture of images, audio and video. Improved blogging tools allow users to add their views and comments to issues being discussed, and also to interact with each other.


BBC World Service programmes were made available as part of the new BBC podcast service launched in the summer of 2007 after a two-year trial. Initially seven programmes were offered. By the end of March 2008, a summary of BBC World Service global news was the BBC's most popular daily podcast, with more than 1.24 million monthly downloads. BBC World Service now provides 31 programmes to the podcast service.


More recently, in August 2008, BBC World Service programmes became available on the BBC iPlayer both in the UK and globally, making it even easier to access programmes, either live or after the transmission date.


Mobile news


To reach growing audiences seeking content on mobiles, WAP portals were launched in four languages - Arabic, Russian, Spanish and English. Users can download news content onto their mobile devices from the BBC sites and view it on demand. Over the next few months users will be able to access content directly from the language sites on their mobile devices.


Editorial overview


The BBC marked 75 years of international broadcasting with Free to Speak, an in-depth look at issues of censorship, political and economic pressure, and how technology is changing the way information is disseminated and consumed. In addition to a series of special programmes, the season gave people all over the world a chance to take part in debates and share stories, while a major survey came up with some surprising results gauging attitudes to press freedom around the world.


In Press for Freedom, media commentator and former newspaper editor Roy Greenslade explored the dangers facing journalists, their freedom to report and how it can be protected. In How Free the BBC?, media specialist Ray Snoddy looked at the relationship between BBC World Service and the British Government.


In London, the first-ever Reith Global Debate brought together former Reith Lecturers. A series of BBC World Service debates held in New York, Delhi and Cairo gave regional perspectives on freedom of expression as audiences put their questions to expert panels.


Other special seasons of programmes extended the quality and range of output throughout the year. One of the highlights was the Bangladesh by River journey - a centrepiece of the Taking the Temperature season on climate change - when journalists from 17 language services, travelling in a floating studio were on hand to report on the devastating effects of Cyclone Sidr. This initiative won the Sony Gold Award for Multiplatform Radio activity.


Russia Week, scheduled in the run-up to the election of President Putin's successor, was BBC World Service's biggest focus on Russian issues to date. Programmes ranged from a review of Putin's policies and the role of the security service, to the booming film industry, the music scene and the state of the nation's health. A BBC World Service-commissioned global survey revealed that a majority of citizens in G7 countries regarded the outgoing president as a "negative influence on democracy and human rights in Russia".


For China Week programming on China was scheduled to coincide with the 17th Party Congress of the Communist Party, presenting an unprecedented opportunity to explore the internal political processes. BBC reporters were inside the Congress hall explaining what was going on and using it as a way to talk about politics in the country. Teams in Beijing, Shanghai and central China added to the breadth of coverage. Many language services took part in the season.


Iraq Five Years On looked at how the years since the invasion have impacted on the United States, Iran, the Arab region and Iraq itself, culminating in special coverage on the day of the anniversary.


BBC World Service's coverage of the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations from Ghana was the most ambitious and comprehensive yet. Match commentary and special reports were available on radio and online and audiences in Africa could follow the tournament in Arabic, English, French, Hausa, Kinyarwanda, Kirundi, Portuguese, Somali and Swahili. A record number of more than 40 FM partner stations across Africa carried live coverage and updates.


The global economy was a major theme throughout the year. Programme makers investigated whether economies such as those of China, Japan, Singapore and India would be dragged down by the credit crisis in the United States in a series that anticipated the upheavals that followed later in the year.


Reporting conflicts


Perhaps the most uplifting news of the year was the release of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston in July 2007, following 114 days in captivity in Gaza. His work was recognised by a number of industry awards including BBC World Service's own annual awards, and awards from Amnesty International, and the London Press Club. He now works at Bush House as South Asia regional editor, and also presents BBC World Service's edition of From Our Own Correspondent.


BBC World Service continues to rely on the courage and dedication of correspondents like Alan to cover challenging stories. Among many whose work stood out was Owen Bennett-Jones and the rest of the English and Urdu language teams who reported on the death of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan. Owen won a clutch of awards for his work on Pakistan, including the Sony Gold for Best News Journalist. In the violent aftermath of Kenya's presidential election, Karen Allen and her colleagues combined their analysis with a vivid picture of events on the ground.


The contribution of local reporters who work for all the language services is immense. In Burma, for example, exceptional coverage of the pro-democracy uprising in the autumn of 2007 stood out for the way sources on the ground were able to channel crucial knowledge of the story to all parts of the BBC, informing audiences in the UK as well as around the world, often at high risk to themselves. At least a quarter of the adult population in Burma tune in to the BBC every week.


Conditions are hazardous for correspondents and contributors in a long list of countries. This was demonstrated all too clearly in June this year when two journalists working for the BBC - Abdul Samad Rohani in Afghanistan and Nasteh Dahir Farah in Somalia, were killed in one weekend. The whole of the BBC, and its audiences, salute the bravery and dedication of reporters in the field who risk much to ensure important stories get told.


Continuing challenges


It is regrettable that access to BBC news material is still obstructed in some parts of the world.


In China, blocking of Mandarin radio and online content remained deep and persistent throughout the year until mid-summer. Following complaints by journalists covering the Olympics, blocking of the Mandarin online site was lifted on 31st July - it remains to be seen what will happen after the Olympics. Access to online news material in English was also unblocked earlier this year in March. On a less optimistic note, during China Week BBC journalists from the Mandarin service were refused visas to report on the Congress and more recently the invitation to the Head of the BBC's Chinese Service to attend the Olympics was withdrawn at the last minute.


In Iran, the BBC Persian website is still blocked despite best efforts to persuade the authorities there to widen access. However, in contrast to the obstacles faced by ordinary users, the BBC Persian website is read daily by officials, some of whom brief senior officials in the government of Iran.


There were difficulties in maintaining FM news broadcasts in Pakistan. A service broadcast on two networks, launched in June 2007, was disrupted and the BBC was taken off the air by the regulatory authorities; the BBC subsequently challenged this in the Pakistani courts, and the situation was further complicated when the state of emergency was declared, although short wave services were unaffected (see Appendix II). At the time of writing, the BBC is back on air with its major partner, although this may change. The growth in traffic to the BBC Urdu website reflects the value audiences in Pakistan and around the world place on the BBC in times of crisis.


In Russia, the decision by the owners of the Moscow-based Bolshoye Radio to cease carrying BBC Russian programmes on FM towards the end of 2007 was both disappointing and unjustified. Representations to the regulators and the owners to restore programmes to their rightful place were made, but were unsuccessful. Since the ending of this agreement, BBC Russian has not been available on FM in Russia.




The launch of Grant-in-Aid funded BBC Arabic television in March 2008 followed a significant realignment of spend within BBC World Service over recent years and represented a major achievement. Although 2007/08 was marked by a number of other financial challenges, BBC World Service ended the year on target.


In terms of its funding arrangements, 2007/08 formed the final year of the 2004 Spending Review period. BBC World Service received £6.5 million of new baseline Grant-in-Aid as part of that settlement. When combined with additional income to help create the planned Persian television service, to be launched in 2008/09, funding from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office totalled £255 million for the year.


Over £30 million was invested in capital projects in the year. The primary focus was on the completion of key components of the Content Delivery Programme, a series of projects designed to replace and enhance existing distribution systems, and on the launch of Arabic television. This included significant infrastructure spend on the Egton Wing of the new News Centre in central London to enable television to be produced there. Outside the UK, major capital projects included the re-engineering of the Ascension Island transmitter station - a programme of work that will run for several years and save significant costs.


The 2007 CSR outcome for BBC World Service compared favourably with much of the public sector, allowing BBC World Service grant in aid income to rise from £246m in 2007/08 to £271m by 2010/11.


The CSR07 settlement provided additional funds for:


∑ Vernacular language television: Persian TV (£15m p.a. from 2008/09) and increasing Arabic TV output from 12 hours a day to 24 hours a day (£2m in 2008/09, £6m p.a. by 2009/10)


∑ Engaging with Diaspora communities in the UK. BBC World Service will develop its online sites to focus more heavily upon the needs of key diaspora audiences in the UK, and to link them to their communities overseas. By increasing the flow of quality information between these two groups, World Service can expose ethnic communities in the UK to developments in their countries of origin, and enhance the understanding of people in those countries of life in the UK.


∑ Funding for restructuring costs as part of the new baseline.


Whilst these additional funds are welcome, BBC World Service has also been set challenging savings targets by HM Treasury of 3% p.a., like most publicly-funded organisations, amounting to £23m over three years. If costs increase by more than 3% p.a., then higher levels of savings will need to be found.


Three Year Plan


Following the CSR settlement, BBC World Service put together its Three Year Plan which was approved by the BBC's Executive Board and the BBC Trust. Savings were identified through efficiencies, as well as reprioritisation from within existing services. All changes were driven by strategic priorities and value for money considerations underpinned by the strategic review "World Service 2010" undertaken after the last CSR in 2004.


Efficiency savings amount to £17.2m over the 3 years. Significant savings will be found from more efficient transmission arrangements, reducing headcount in London and increasing use of international offices.


Output changes will yield a further £3.1m over the 3 years. The key initiatives are:


Closure of the Romanian Service. Consideration was given to closure in 2005, but the significantly large audience figures tipped the argument in favour of retention. The measured Romanian audience in Romania had more than halved from 1.6m in 2006 to 0.5m in 2007 and was down significantly from a peak of 3m in 2000. This, together with the increase in media choice in Romania, contributed to the decision. There were limited strategic, political or audience imperatives for the service to remain in the BBC World Service portfolio. There was a small audience in Moldova, but it was not possible to keep a service going for Moldova without the infrastructure of the Romanian Service. The announcement was made in June 2008 and the service's last programme went out on 31st July 2008.


While it was considered challenging to close a service so soon after the ten closures in 2006, it was right to close it as soon as possible given other priorities and the tight financial environment.


Restructuring of the Spanish and Russian language services. As two of the largest services, both the Spanish and Russian Services will make appropriate savings to cover their own rising costs over the three year period.


The Spanish Service restructuring was announced in February 2008. It is clear that the future of the Spanish Service lies increasingly in the internet and new platforms - has grown substantially and it is among the top ten news sites in the target Latin American market, whilst BBC Spanish radio audiences have declined despite the very high quality of output. The new structure reflects this with a greater focus and investment into, making it the core activity of the Spanish service. This was achieved through reprioritisation from the radio operations, but without compromising on the core radio output for the partners who deliver most of the audience, and the short wave output to Cuba.


At the time of writing the restructuring of the Russian Service has yet to be finalised and announced.


There will however be some welcome new investment in Russian new media services as the funds released by both the BBC Spanish and BBC Russian services will exceed the level they are required to make to cover rising costs.


Re-scoping of English Language Teaching by attracting non-GIA funding.


No further language service closures are anticipated during this three year period.


During 2008 plans to reprioritise within the South Asian services were also announced. This was an editorial decision, which involved moving staff to South Asia to be closer to their audience and partner stations, a strategy that BBC World Service has pursued, and found to be effective, over a number of years. Indeed, the aim of the restructuring plan, which covers the Hindi, Urdu and Nepali services, was to safeguard and strengthen these language services so that they continue to bring benefit to the millions of people who rely on them.


However, since the announcement, some staff from the language services affected have expressed their unhappiness with the proposals, and further negotiations on the packages offered to staff are taking place with the Unions. In order to address some of the damaging accusations that have been aired in Parliament on this issue, and erroneous comments about its impact upon the BBC's editorial independence, Appendix II sets out the BBC's response.


BBC World Service Trust


The BBC World Service Trust, the BBC's international development charity funded by external grants and voluntary contributions, placed increasing emphasis on interactive technologies in its work to alleviate poverty and promote human rights in over 43 countries - primarily in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.


Work focuses on two main areas, media development and using communications, and is delivered through projects clustered around four primary themes: Governance & Human Rights, Health, Emergency Response and Learning for Livelihoods. In addition, the Trust has an evolving subsidiary theme - the Environment.


In the year to March 2008, the BBC World Service Trust received its highest income ever: £17.9m, up from £3.5m in 2000. The principle funding source is grants receivable from international bilateral donors.


Building on greater access to the internet and mobile communications, it took advantage of growing opportunities for dialogue with audiences. Here are just some of the highlights of the work of the BBC World Service Trust over the past year:


One of the most successful interactive campaigns was the ZigZag project, which enabled young Iranians to develop skills as 'citizen' journalists. The site received well over a million visits. By accessing a virtual newsroom, aspiring journalists were able to generate content for a variety of BBC platforms, including the BBC Persian website, and gain feedback from experienced professionals. More than 7,500 contributions were received.


The BBC World Service Trust worked with colleagues across the BBC in projects designed to give communities greater freedom of expression. Its multimedia Question Time-style debating programme Bangladesh Sanglap (Dialogue) formed a centrepiece of the BBC World Service Bangladesh by River project, as described earlier. The programmes offer an opportunity to question politicians and commentators first hand and have a combined radio and television audience of more than 17 million.


In Sierra Leone, BBC World Service Trust worked in partnership with the conflict resolution NGO Search for Common Ground to develop and implement a national campaign to support free, fair and peaceful elections. It carried out journalistic training and population surveys and strengthened technical support to local media.


Television and radio programmes, including popular drama series, are the centrepiece of mass media health promotion campaigns in countries such as Angola, Cambodia, India, Nigeria and Vietnam. Radio remains the cornerstone of projects to reach mass audiences in many of the world's poorest communities. Projects throughout the year ranged from Radio Lifeline for Darfur to Hip Hop Girls, a weekly phone-in made in partnership with Cambodian radio stations to get girls aged 18 to 20 talking about reproductive and sexual health.


Appendix I


Value of international broadcasting survey


For more than 75 years, the UK Government has required the BBC to provide news services for audiences overseas. Today, the BBC offers:


∑ radio news broadcasts in 32 languages through the BBC World Service

∑ two rolling news channels (BBC World News in English and BBC Arabic), with BBC Persian soon to launch

∑ fully multimedia online news websites in 9 key languages, with more limited online offers in all others; audio available live online in all languages


The English World Service radio broadcasts and all of the BBC's non-English language services are paid for by Grant-in-Aid from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. The BBC World News television channel and the English language international news website ( are both funded by advertising.


233 million people around the world use at least one of these services each week, making the BBC comfortably the biggest global provider of international news. For some audiences the BBC provides an alternative to domestic providers of news; for others in the most troubled parts of the world, the BBC is the only reliable, authoritative and impartial source of news and information.


Although these services are mainly used by people outside the UK, the BBC set out to test whether the British public (who provide most of the funding) consider these overseas news services to be of measurable value to the UK at large. Economists refer to this idea of value as an externality. Recently, the term 'public value' has been used to refer to the broader value to society of public services, whether people actually use these public services or not. The notion of public value, and its measurement in particular, is a major theme at present in evaluating public sector effectiveness.


Six workshops were carried out by Human Capital with a representative cross-section of the UK population in spring 2008 on behalf of the BBC. They sought to explore UK citizens' perceptions of the benefits of these overseas news services, and to estimate the scale of the public value delivered.


Ways of the UK engaging with the world


Respondents were briefed on why the UK engages with the world through a variety of trade promotion and development agencies, as well as through 'public diplomacy' like international broadcasting. Members of the public participating in the research broadly agreed that institutions which attempt to shape and enhance the UK's relationship with the world were important, with international news broadcasting considered to be the most essential to fund from a range of alternatives provided to participants. Support for all of these forms of engagement generally fell into two main streams. Some people saw direct national interest for the UK in positive international engagement (more direct revenue for the UK though trade and tourism, maintaining a high international profile for Britain). Others had a more altruistic view and thought it was right that the UK spent money to help address under-development and generally to make the world a better place. International news broadcasting scored highly in the research because it was seen to further both sets of interests.


Respondents were then briefed on the international news services which the BBC provides. A large majority had a positive perception of all the BBC services. This was particularly true for the BBC World Service, for which 96% of respondents had a very favourable or favourable impression (88% and 71% for BBC World News and respectively).


Respondents broadly felt that it was important for the UK to provide each of the three services to the world. The World Service was seen as particularly important - this was driven by two main factors:


∑ Radios remain more readily available and cheaper to acquire in developing countries than television or the internet.

∑ Countries in which the World Service had greatest impact were seen to be the ones that really matter (due to lack of free media, poverty, potential sources of terrorist activity or historical links with Britain).


BBC World News was considered to be important too, but for slightly different reasons:


∑ The belief that a television service was essential in the 21st century as the media outlet which is likely to continue to have the greatest impact and reach around the world.

∑ The role of BBC World News as an effective competitor to (largely American) rolling news channels around the world, and in the US itself. Many people referred to the particular impact the US has on the world, and saw BBC World News as a good way of reaching and influencing viewers in the US, particularly opinion-formers.


High levels of support for were largely driven by three factors:


∑ A view that news online would be increasingly important in the future as more and more people had internet access

∑ was seen to be more impartial than its online competitors overall

∑ Many respondents had used the UK service ( and typically thought highly of it and used it regularly


Value to the UK of these BBC overseas services


Respondents were then asked how much they thought it would be worth paying to keep these services open, even though most of them don't actually have access to them.

The BBC World Service received the largest valuation, with a total annual value of £379 million (the equivalent of 75p per household per month).


The reported valuation of the World Service implies public support (in this research study) for funding at a level more than 50% above the World Service's current £240m annual grant-in-aid. Public value figures reported for BBC World News and were £221m and £140m respectively. These are significant results given that neither of these services receives any public funding.




The research provided evidence of a great deal of support for the basic objectives of international news broadcasting and respondents broadly thought that the BBC Global News services were effective ways to deliver these objectives.


People were particularly supportive of the World Service, which was deemed to be executed well and well placed to deliver the core objectives because of its geographic reach profile. In value terms, respondents' results indicated a total of nearly £750m of public value to the UK each year across the three services.


This is a rapidly developing area of research and was the first time that public value estimates were calculated for services for which the consumers are generally not those who pay for the services to be provided. The methodology could have broader application to a range of public services which have similar funding characteristics as a means of evaluating the effectiveness of these services in achieving stated social benefits.


Appendix II


South Asia reprioritisation and editorial independence


During 2008 proposals to restructure the Hindi, Urdu and Nepali services and move part of their production effort to Delhi, Islamabad and Kathmandu were put forward.


The South Asia restructuring is fundamentally an editorial plan, and is critically important for the future of the three services. The BBC is facing tough competition in the region and it has to keep improving the depth and relevance of its output in order to 'stand-out' in ever more competitive markets. Moving more production to where the audiences are will help get a better understanding of what listeners want. The services will be able to give them more authoritative content and respond to events more quickly, whilst at the same time building stronger links with local partners.


This is not a new policy in BBC World Service. Indeed, overall some 25% of language staff work abroad already, delivering programmes for their local audiences. Services in Arabic, Spanish for Latin America, Portuguese for Brazil, Swahili in Kenya, Hausa in Nigeria, Pashto and Persian in Afghanistan are among those with a substantial proportion of personnel working in major bureaux, complementing language staff in London. All of the services which have used this model have reaped great successes in terms of creating relevant programming that chimes with local audience needs.


In addition, in order to meet BBC World Service's 3% savings target, as set by the Treasury, the Hindi, Urdu and Nepali services need to save about £0.5m over the next three years, and the alternative to the proposed relocations would be to reduce output and close posts in London. With the proposed relocation, there is no reduction in the output and it will be produced more efficiently by making use of enhanced bureaux in India, Pakistan and Nepal. Additionally, although posts will close in London, more will open in the region.


On the issue of BBC World Service's editorial independence, production teams outside the UK work to exactly the same editorial guidelines and standards, and the same level of professionalism, as staff in Bush House. Suggestions that staff based outside the UK produce substandard output or censor themselves are misguided.


The BBC has total editorial control over its programming whether broadcast directly on short wave, on medium wave, or via third party distribution arrangements. It is at the core of any agreement with any partner station, and for the relationship to continue, local partners must accept this, including those in South Asia. If any attempt was made to interfere with output, the partnership would cease forthwith.


1 October 2008