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
∑ 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
∑ 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
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
BBC World Service's English language service attracted 40 million weekly listeners globally - up two million on last year.
audience trust remained very positive. In a period when the BBC and commercial
broadcasters in the
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.
24/7 news provision contributed to the success of sites such as bbcbrasil.com,
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
the internet are also increasingly important - BBC Learning English content for
Across the BBC's Global News output including BBC World Service, BBC World News television and bbc.com/news, 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
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
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.
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
The new channel
investigates the issues that dominate people's lives in the
immediately stood out in the market by offering a wider news agenda and greater
depth. On the day of the TV launch, as
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.
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
It is predicted
that the channel will have strong impact in
The channel will
draw a significant additional audience outside of
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
In the longer
term, if BBC World Service is going to compete seriously in regions like South
Asia, and in parts of
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
BBC World Service is now available on FM in 154 capital cities, up from 152 last year.
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
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 bbcworldservice.com 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 bbcarabic.com 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 bbcarabic.com 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 youtube.com 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 bbcpersian.com 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.
in August 2008, BBC World Service programmes became available on the BBC iPlayer both in the
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.
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.
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
For China Week programming on
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.
Service's coverage of the 2008 Africa Cup
of Nations from
economy was a major theme throughout the year. Programme makers investigated
whether economies such as those of
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
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
of local reporters who work for all the language services is immense. In
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
It is regrettable that access to BBC news material is still obstructed in some parts of the world.
difficulties in maintaining FM news broadcasts in
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
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
∑ 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.
savings amount to £17.2m over the 3 years. Significant savings will be found
from more efficient transmission arrangements, reducing headcount in
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
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 - BBC.Mundo.com 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 BBCMundo.com,
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
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.
plans to reprioritise within the South Asian services were also announced. This
was an editorial decision, which involved moving staff to
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
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
radio programmes, including popular drama series, are the centrepiece of mass
media health promotion campaigns in countries such as
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 (bbc.com/news) 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.
services are mainly used by people outside the
were carried out by Human Capital with a representative cross-section of the
Ways of the
briefed on why the
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 bbc.com/news respectively).
broadly felt that it was important for the
∑ 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
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
High levels of support for bbc.com/news 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
∑ bbc.com/news was seen to be more impartial than its online competitors overall
∑ Many respondents had
Value to the
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 bbc.com/news 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.
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
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.
During 2008 proposals
to restructure the Hindi, Urdu and Nepali services and move part of their
production effort to
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
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
On the issue of
BBC World Service's editorial independence, production teams outside the
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
1 October 2008