Examination of Witnesses (Questions 860
TUESDAY 29 NOVEMBER 2005
29 NOVEMBER 2005Mr
Richard Sambrook and Mr Nigel Chapman
Q860 Bishop of Manchester:
What kinds of conversations are going on at this moment with the
Government on that?
Mr Chapman: There have been conversations about
it, but the difficulty is that those conversations are taking
place outside the spending review framework and the next spending
review discussion formally will start in the early part of 2007
and be concluded in the summer of 2007. That will be the formal
theatre in which these conversations will need to take place,
but it will be a very, very high priority for us and I have made
it clear in my conversations with the FCO that we have worked
really hard in terms of reprioritisation, and taken some difficult
decisions about the language services, in order to bring together
a package of measures which I think puts the World Service on
the right path for 2010, but if you Government want more than
that, whether a 24 hour service instead of 12, whether you want
new television services or extensions of anything else, I am sorry,
but there is a limit to what the World Service can do without
it taking money out of things that it really does need to keep
going. That is a very frank conversation that I need to have with
fundersit is a continually frank conversationabout
how far we can go, and I think we have gone a long way here with
reprioritisation and I think we have gone as far as we can go
in that respect. If people want expensive new services, or even
modestly expensive services from the BBC World Service, then the
taxpayer has to pay for it because there is no other way, unless
we close down more things which, against the criteria I talked
about, you could not justify doing.
But the 12 hours you can cope with.
Mr Chapman: Yes, we can and we will be.
Q862 Lord Maxton:
Can I in a sense turn to Lord King's question about coverage.
If you put out a radio broadcast and I tune my radio and it has
shortwave and all the rest of it, I can get it. That is not quite
so true of television, is it? I cannot tune my television to pick
up television programmes from France or from Germany, someone
has to provide it on a platform for me.
Mr Sambrook: Yes.
Q863 Lord Maxton:
It is alright talking about the Arabic world as if somehow it
is a unity but it is not, it is a whole variety of different nation
states, each of them presumably with their own television services.
What guarantees are you getting that you will be on their television
platforms and therefore available to the people of each nation
Mr Chapman: What we will do is we will take
space on three different satellite providers which will mean that
provided you have a satellite dishand remember that in
some of the societies I am talking about, satellite usage is now
60 to 70 per cent, so 60 to 70 per cent of households have access
to satellite televisionprovided you have got the satellite
dish this service will be free-to-air to you, you will not have
to pay for it, and the spread of distribution will cover right
from Morocco, right across to Saudi Arabia
Q864 Lord King of Bridgwater:
But in Saudi Arabia dishes are banned.
Mr Chapman: That is not correct.
Q865 Lord King of Bridgwater:
Is that not right?
Mr Chapman: The penetration of satellite television
in Saudi Arabia is something like 90 per cent of the country.
Lord King of Bridgwater: The brief I
have here says dishes are banned in Saudi Arabia and they control
through encrypting networks and programming
Q866 Lord Maxton:
That is my problem, it is the control. It is who says that your
satellite broadcast will actually be allowed into the individual
homes of each satellite owner? As I say, I am a satellite owner
but I cannot necessarily tune my satellite of my own accord into
whatever free-to-air satellite programmes are floating around
out there; I have to have someone to provide it for me. That is
the question I want you to answer.
Mr Chapman: As I understand it the satellite
distributors will enable that to happen. This is a free-to-air
service and of course it is possible in theory that a company
could turn round and say I want to try and block access, but that
is not the position in Saudi at the moment. The position in Saudi
at the moment as I understand itand Richard might want
to come in herethey have free access to BBC World in English,
they have access to Al-Jazeera and Arabic TV channels. The authorities
may not like people watching them very much, but they have free
access to them and they use them at the moment, so there is not
really a precedent at the moment of a country turning round and
saying I am going to have systematic blocking of access to satellite
television in the Arab world. They might not like the content,
but they do not block it.
Q867 Lord King of Bridgwater:
They put a delay on it, I am told, a five second delay.
Mr Chapman: That has not been our experience.
Mr Sambrook: There are some countries which
put a delay on, although I do not think English language BBC World
has any significant issues across the regions in which we distribute.
Q868 Lord King of Bridgwater:
Have you had consultations with all the countries that you are
proposing to broadcast to?
Mr Sambrook: We have had a number of discussions
and negotiations going on and we have a high degree of confidence
that we can get proper distribution, particularly, as Nigel says,
as this is going to be available across a wide region by satellite
on a free-to-air basis. We have good relationships with a number
of distributors in the region, partly on the back of the distribution
of BBC World in English, and indeed good relationships with a
number of broadcasters based on broadcasting on radio and some
FM distribution with some as well. So we have strong relationships
there which we intend to use and we havenot every signature
is in place at this stage given we have not yet begun to put the
network together, but we have a high degree of confidence that
we can get the distribution.
Mr Chapman: The three satellite distributors
are Arabsat, Nilesat and Intelsat. Arabsat and Nilesat are already
distributing the BBC World Service radio in Arabic, they are already
doing that, and BBC World television and BBC World English radio
sometimes. So there is already a proper relationship and this
is a commercial relationshipyou go and buy your space and
you just pay for it. It is a very different situation from what
happened in the Nineties when the BBC had a relationship with
a company called Orbit which was a Saudi-backed company and it
was a pay-per-view channel. It was a very different situation
and the fact that channels like Al Arabiya and Al-Jazeera are
so widely viewed across the Middle East gives you an indication
that whilst governments sometimes have problems with individual
parts of the editorial remit, there is no systematic prevention
or obstruction going on to people's access to it.
Q869 Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen:
Could I perhaps come in on this from a slightly different angle?
You very kindly told us in your letter to us of October 25 about
the changes the staff were facing and how you were attempting
to support them. Would you like to just run over that for us and
bring us up to date on exactly what is happening, because obviously
as you change languages you change the staff you need.
Mr Chapman: Indeed, and that has been one of
the most difficult parts of this process because there are something
like 230 members of the World Service staff working in the language
services affected, where we have decided to have closures or partial
closures, where they have done a very good job. I am determined
that they should be given everything we possibly can in terms
of redundancy payments and help to find jobs and find new opportunities.
In that context, earlier this year the BBC, when we were discussing
the changes on the licence fee side negotiated under the aegis
of ACAS, an agreement with the trades unions, both with BECTU
and NUJ, which gave a guaranteed minimum length of time that any
member of staff could stay on the payroll if they were facing
compulsory redundancy. Obviously, in reality, the staff in the
language services are facing compulsory redundancy, unless we
can find them alternative employment, and that could be very hardhalf
of them are not even based in London, they are based overseas
so they would need to find alternative employment in Prague, or
in Sofia, Zagreb or wherever, and that would be very difficult,
obviously, because the BBC does not have alternative outlets in
those places. We have agreed with the unions that we will honour
the ACAS agreement in this respect, so (a) there will be a length
of time, a year, from the time we tabled these proposals in October,
and anybody facing compulsory redundancy will be on the BBC payroll
and stay on the salary payroll until December 2006. In addition,
they will then be entitled to the BBC standard redundancy settlement
of one month for every year they have worked on the staff on full
contract. We are working with them on retraining issues, re-skilling,
looking about for new opportunities for them and a whole range
of other issues too. At the moment our conversations with the
trade unions are going reasonably well and I hope we will be able
to come to a sensible settlement on this.
Q870 Lord Peston:
I must say, I am very lost on your arguments. As I understand
it, we are talking about TV in Arabic.
Mr Sambrook: Yes.
Q871 Lord Peston:
Where you will provide an impartial, independent service, the
implication being that they cannot get an impartial independent
service in Arabic at the present time, is that right?
Mr Chapman: That is the way audiences perceive
it. Audiences perceive that despite the range of choice they now
have on television in Arabic, they do not feel that they get
Q872 Lord Peston:
Their belief is that it is neither impartial nor independent.
Mr Chapman: They will get that from the BBC
Q873 Lord Peston:
You are saying, therefore, it is the duty of the British taxpayer
to spend £20-£25 million a year to fill that gap. That
is the nature of your argument.
Mr Chapman: Yes. I am not sure I quite express
it that way
Q874 Lord Peston:
No, it is the way I am expressing it, but that must be the logic
of what you are saying.
Mr Chapman: Yes, because one of the roles the
World Service has had historically, ever since it was founded,
is to provide people with a cornerstone of reliable news and information,
and what this is an example of is keeping the same values but
using a different medium in order to reach people.
Q875 Lord Peston:
You are also arguing that since they can already get this reliable
independent and impartial information in English, there is a net
gain from letting them have it in Arabic.
Mr Sambrook: Yes.
Q876 Lord Peston:
Can you tell me why that is so? That does not make any sense to
me at all.
Mr Sambrook: Less than 10 per cent of the audience
are fluent English speakers; therefore an Arabic television service
is aimed at a very different group, and we do not believe that
there will be a substantial overlap between viewers to BBC World
and viewers to BBC Arabic.
Q877 Lord Peston:
To extend it, what you are saying is that the British taxpayer
has to find £25 million per annum for non English-speaking,
Arabic-speaking people to get this kind of information. Can you
then tell meand you probably did answer this and I was
not paying enough attentionhow many Arabic-speaking people
are we talking about?
Mr Chapman: Arabic-speaking people in the Middle
East, you are talking about 250 million people.
Q878 Lord Peston:
I know that, but how many of them are going to be watching this?
Mr Chapman: It is very, very hard to give precise
numbers at this stage, but we believe that we would at least double
the reach of the BBC's Arabic services. The BBC Arabic radio service
has 12 million listeners at the moment, so at the very least you
would expect to double it and I think we would be looking to get
a reach with television and radio in Arabic into the 30 million
mark, so it is a significant audience and one that is much bigger
potentially than for radio, which is going to face a lot of pressures
and in some markets will actually decline.
Q879 Lord Peston:
If we take it as 25 million, what does the 25 million mean? That
25 million some time during the year will watch the service?
Mr Chapman: No, we would get 25 million users
every week. It may not be the same 25 million