Memorandum by BBC World Service
I am writing to inform you of some important
changes to BBC World Service, which were announced to staff in
our London and overseas offices earlier today. This will include
the launch of a BBC Arabic Television Service, enhancements in
new media, distribution and marketing; and the closure of language
services, the majority targeted at Europe, after many years of
These changes are part of an overall strategy
to ensure BBC World Service maintains its pre-eminence and impact
in a multi-media digital age. They have been approved by the Board
of Governors. The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth
Affairs, Jack Straw, has also given his approval as he is required
to do under the terms of our agreement with the FCO.
Like every other media organisation, the BBC
is operating against a background of intense competition, fast
developing new technology, and rapidly changing audience demands
around the world. Despite this, the BBC World Service has maintained
a weekly audience of around 150 million listeners and the highest
scores of any international broadcaster for trust and reputation.
However, the pace of the challenge for all of
us in the BBC World Service is quickening in many parts of the
world. We must also ensure that we serve our audiences in the
most efficient and focused way, and offer maximum value for money
for the UK taxpayers who fund us.
In that context, BBC World Service held a strategic
review of all its international language services. During the
review, the BBC took into account many factors, including the
relative strategic importance of the countries we broadcast to,
the positive changes in the political and media environment over
the last 15 years in many of them and where the BBC has the greatest
impact and is likely to maintain it.
The conclusion of the review is that the BBC
World Service's English language services on radio and online
will continue to be the foundation stone of our news and information
services to our target audiences, working alongside BBC World
However, the review concluded that BBC World
Service should be concentrating its non-English services in areas
where the media marketplace is less well developed and where audiences
have greater need for impartial, independent sources of news and
informationsuch as the Middle East, Africa and parts of
Asia. It also highlighted that we should increase our impact by
being on relevant platforms in priority media markets, including
television and offering more reports in video on our online site.
These strategic directions were echoed in the
Government's Green Paper on the future of the BBC which asked
the BBC World Service to work out, within its current funding,
how it could meet the challenges of widening media choice in many
markets, especially in the context of the growth of satellite
and cable television.
BBC ARABIC TELEVISION
We have therefore decided to launch, in 2007,
a BBC Arabic Television Service, initially broadcasting for 12
hours a day, focused on news and information. Moreover we will
invest further in the development of new media, particularly in
the area of interactivity and video news reporting in a number
of markets including South America, Russia and South Asia as well
as to the Middle East.
BBC World Service is already the most successful,
trusted and respected voice in the Middle East with more than
60 years experience of broadcasting in the Arabic language on
radio, and more recently and successfully, online. The BBC Arabic
Television Service will build on this legacy by offering trusted
and accurate news with an international agenda; using all three
media for sharing views and perspectives across the region and
the wider world. This would mean the BBC will be the only major
broadcaster who will provide a tri-media service in Arabic to
the Middle Eastusing TV, radio and online. Our research
suggests there is strong demand for a BBC Arabic Television Service
in the Middle East. Between 80 and 90 per cent of those questioned
in seven Arab cities would be "very likely" or "fairly
likely" to watch a BBC Arabic TV service.
BBC World Service proposed an Arabic television
service as part of its 2004 spending review bid. The Government
supported this but said that funding would need to come from reprioritisation.
Launching a television operation in Arabic and
improving new media within a budget fixed until the next Spending
Review in 2007 is a major challenge in financial terms. This has
meant a significant reprioritisation of our current spend, especially
in relation to our existing language services targeted to Central
and Eastern Europe. BBC World Service intends to continue talks
with the Government about the possibility of extra funding to
enable the proposed service to become a 24 hour operation.
Our review concluded that 10 languages out of
the current 43 no longer fulfil the strategic criteria outlined
earlier. Therefore, after very careful consideration, BBC World
Service has decided to close its Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Greek,
Hungarian, Polish, Slovakian, and Slovenian language services
(by March 2006), after many years of distinguished programme making
by March 2006.
In addition, we have decided to close our small
Thai and Kazakh services by March 2006. Whilst they have a small
loyal audience, they are struggling to make an impact in a competitive
climate. The Thai media landscape has also changed fundamentally
in recent years. In Kazakhstan, we have problems with FM distribution
and most listeners are accessing our Regional Russian service,
which will continue unaffected by this review.
We are also making changes to the balance of
investment in our Portuguese for Brazil service. Following dramatic
media market developments in Brazil where online access to the
BBC is more popular than conventional radio broadcasting, the
Portuguese for Brazil radio service will cease broadcasting over
the airwaves and become available online only, by March 2006.
Its online service is growing its traffic rapidly and will see
major new investment to enrich it.
Many of the European services being closed had
their roots in the Second World War, and they have continued to
make excellent programmes through the Cold War years and right
up to the present day. However, Europe has fundamentally changed
since the early 90s. Now, the countries to which these languages
are broadcast are members of the EU, or are likely to join soon.
The growth of national and regional media has been marked in recent
years. As people have turned to media produced in their own country
or region, there has been a declining appetite for the BBC World
Service. Other international broadcasters have already withdrawn
from many of these countries. Some of our target audiences have
maintained their relationship with the BBC by turning to our services
in English, especially BBC World, which is growing a sizeable
audience in Poland and the Czech Republic.
The contribution of all staff in these BBC World
Service language services for Europe has been immense. It is acknowledged
that their presence has contributed to the building of the free
and open democracies enjoyed by their citizens. We believe this
will be a lasting legacy.
We are determined to support all our staff facing
redundancy in their search to find alternative employment in or
outside the BBC, but we have to be realistic; there is a high
likelihood of compulsory redundancies.
Earlier this summer, the BBC reached an agreement
with the unions, under the auspices of ACAS, which laid out the
terms by which staff could be made compulsorily redundant. This
includes a pledge that no-one would leave the BBC World Service
compulsorily until early December 2006 on the grounds of compulsory
redundancy. Eligible staff would also receive the appropriate
redundancy compensation under BBC policy of one month's salary
for every year on the BBC's staff.
I am confident this difficult course is the
right one for the BBC World Service. It is always difficult to
close services with a distinguished history, but the alternative
of failing to deliver our news and information on the right media
platforms where it is needed most would do far more damage to
the organisation's long term future, and to our reputation, and
the value we deliver to the UK taxpayer.
The full text of the announcement to staff,
which gives full details of the rationale behind the changes,
will be available online at bbc.co.uk/worldservice/us.
I finally want to reassure you that whilst the
mix of services has to evolve as the world changes, the overall
core aims of the BBC World Service will remain the same: to provide
quality news and information that people trust, which stands out
for its independence, authority and objectivity; and to be a forum
for global debate. Our news services on television and in new
media will be judged by those values just as their distinguished
predecessors have been.
I, and the senior management team, believe these
changes will enable the BBC World Service to maintain and build
on its pre-eminent position as the world's leading international
25 October 2005