Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1700
TUESDAY 10 JANUARY 2006
Lord Carter of Coles
It also matters does it not that if the Foreign Office was to
say our priority was to get better relations with Chinawhich
it might well saywould it then be legitimate for the Foreign
Office to say to the BBC World Service we are having a bit of
trouble with your reports out there, would you mind modifying
them? Would that be legitimate or not?
Lord Carter of Coles: I should think there would
be a constitutional crisis.
Chairman: I am glad you replied in that
way. Let us go to Lord Maxton.
Q1701 Lord Maxton:
I would like to switch a little bit to the governance of the World
Service within the BBC itself where there is of course the Governors'
World Service and Global News Consultative Group. You are not
quite critical of it in the review, but you believe it is (a)
too small, do you, and (b) that it does not seem to have any input
really into decision-making, it is an advisory body. Would you
like to see it beefed up?
Lord Carter of Coles: Yes, I think so. It meets
twice a year as I understand it
Q1702 Lord Maxton:
It is entirely made up of governors, is it?
Lord Carter of Coles: No, it is not, it is actually
made up of outsiders. They commission work and then review it
at the second meeting, so it is infrequent and it did not seem
to me to be one thing or the other in governance terms. The sense,
I hope, from the report is that we would like to see that strengthened
to offer more input.
Q1703 Lord Maxton:
How would you like to see it evolve? What should happen?
Lord Carter of Coles: First of all I am not
sure how transparent it is and with the coming of FOI these things
are going to be accessible to people anyway and the questions
it asks should be a matter of public record and available, and
the whole discussion going on within the World Service about what
its priorities should be. I see this body as quite important to
Lord Maxton: That almost leads you into
the next group which is about where the World Service goes next,
but that is for someone else.
Q1704 Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen:
I notice in your report that you state that the Review Team questioned
whether a radio service in 43 languages was still relevant. What
was your personal view about this in relation to the existing
services and how has the BBC World Service responded to your proposals
that there should be a continuous review on a country by country
basis to make the case for funding for each service, which seems
to put a much bigger onus on the BBC than previously?
Lord Carter of Coles: Starting with the fact
that resources are finite, I would come from the position of how
would you prioritise this. We were obviously working on the review
and talking to the BBC before their announcement in October of
the reduction in the number of stations. My own sense was that
the money could be better deployed elsewhere; I did not have a
specific view about which services should or should not be continued,
I think that is for the BBC to discuss with the FCO, but I suppose
you could argue that post the Cold War the shortwave service in
Czech probably was not the best way to spend the money and we
should spend that somewhere else. That is the constant thing for
me, it is the continual reprioritisation because if we look back
20 years the BBC was broadcasting on shortwave into Eastern Europe
with a very specific aim, 10 years ago we were actually in a sense
in a transition with the accession countries of Eastern Europe,
it was a different message, and going forward from there who knows,
10 years on. The case for broadcasting in the sense of the recipient
countries has changed and, secondly, the technology has changed
and we have the question of whether we put more into TV or in
fact into electronic media, so we have such a dynamic situation,
that is why I was making a recommendation that this thing should
be continually under review by the BBC, and it is for them to
Q1705 Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen:
Can I ask you a little bit more then about the actual continuous
review. Are you thinking of every year or every five years?
Lord Carter of Coles: Probably every two years,
but looking at it I think the wave of information leads us to
the question of how do you rate success of the BBC? Is it by audience
numbers, is it by the segments of the people you are trying to
reach, the target audience, or what? That needs to be clear and
then in the case, for instance, of services to Thailand, it was
clear that the service was declining rapidly, people were not
listening to it, so it seemed to self-present if you wanted to
reprioritise. I think the BBC will just continuously look at it
in some way. It is not a matter of every week, but presumably
every year as they come through their budgetary cycle they look
at it and say is that a good place to spend money this year? If
for three years you get declining audience numbers and it is not
explicable or reversible, then probably it would lead to a question
whether that should continue.
The Committee suspended from 17.06 pm to
17.16 pm for a division in the House
Q1706 Baroness Howe of Idlicote:
I wanted to follow up with a question on the decision that the
BBC ultimately makes about exiting from 43 countries. I just wondered
to what extent in the representations the Government must be making
they dwell a little on their own inclusiveness programme because
of course there are people who would be listening to the BBC in
areas like Thailand, for example, only able to understand it in
their own language, who would be disadvantaged. Therefore, how
much weight really would be given to that?
Lord Carter of Coles: It is very difficult to
get that balance, and if you are trying to get an objective measurement
of that it really comes to the pointas in the case of Thailand
where it was declining so steadilywhere you say if that
trend is going to continue and we cannot reverse it, we should
stop. It is very interesting to look at the Voice of America who
actually made the same reprioritisation three years before. I
do not know whether it was less consultative, but it was certainly
Q1707 Baroness Howe of Idlicote:
Obviously, the lack of being able to access "independent"
news or information would perhaps have greater priority for somewhere
like China because there are other reasons, but nevertheless that
particular aspect must have some weight, though not a huge amount.
Lord Carter of Coles: That is where the internet
becomes important because that is not country-specific. Although
there is a language issue, at least actually you can get access
to those services, and I suspect that is the way it might go.
Q1708 Lord Kalms:
Lord Carter, it is not entirely within the remit of your committee
but I wanted to raise the issue of Arabic language television
because you have made several comments and it seems to me that
there is a fair amount of ambivalence about your own commentsI
think you were being tentative. We have had quite a lot of discussions
around this table with others who were talking about setting up
the service, and one of the conclusions was that it might be substantially
under-funded and there were many doubts expressed about this whole
venture, including who is going to fund it and the Government
saying if they wanted the money they would find it from somewhere
else. I thought you might just expand a little bit on this service.
How do you judge this? This is potentially a very important enterprise
by the World Service and/or dangerous.
Lord Carter of Coles: It is important and I
agree it is dangerous because it is the first step into foreign
language TV and therefore it is important to get it right. In
terms of success, I think that actually delivering it on time
to the budget they have got at the beginning is probably quite
an important starting point, and the second point is to get the
audiences that they are setting out to get. They have made statements
about how many people they expect to see itI cannot recollect
what it is and on what basisand they have made very clear
indications that they are prepared to be measured against. The
most important thing, probably, to get back to the original point,
would be the integrity of how they are perceived in the Middle
East. They would be the three measures but how those trust ratings
come through in this difficult situation would be the most critical.
On the funding point, when we looked at this of course comparative
funding for other stations like Al-Jazeera, or CNN, or whatever,
it means that they look better funded, but of course this is a
marginal cost to the BBC, they already have news-gathering systems
et cetera and those things can flow through into this which makes
them well-placed to do it. My own sense is to monitor it very
closely and see how it goes in the first period, and see then
what sort of audiences they get and whether consideration should
be given to extending it to 24 hours; 12 hours is a very good
place to start, the BBC feel it is adequately funded, and they
are not going to come forward with an impoverished service they
are going to come forward with something which is competitive
and I think it stands a very good chance. But it is a crowded
space and the dominance of Al-Jazeera is obviously well-established.
It does not seem as if the American Alhurra has done particularly
well, but that may be for content reasons and not for any other
reasons or independence reasons.
Q1709 Bishop of Manchester:
Are there any projections about potential audiences?
Lord Carter of Coles: Yes, I think there are.
They did say what they are aiming for and perhaps I could come
back to you on that. I think they are aiming for 30 million people
a week within five yearsit is quite ambitious.
You really think that the budget they have been given is an adequate
Lord Carter of Coles: Their feeling is that
they were prepared to start on that and felt they could actually
meet the criteria and that audience, so on that basis, yes, given
that it is marginal cost. If they were having to set up a whole
But you do have to translate everything, do you not? We have already
had evidence which pointed out that the cost of this is not insubstantial.
Lord Carter of Coles: That is absolutely true,
that is a cost, but I do not have any idea what that specifically
Chairman: Thank you. Lady Bonham-Carter.
Q1712 Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury:
Picking up on that, I am not sure quite how marginal it is. Television
is very different from radio, much more expensive, and also this
is not just about using foreign correspondents who feed into the
rest of the BBC because we are talking about providing Arabic
speakers and so on, so I wonder how marginal the cost is. In your
report you said that you thought the BBC World Service was very
slow in moving resources out of Europe into key regions in the
Middle East. How do you think that could be improved in the futurein
part picking up on the Bishop of Manchester's point about identifying
China? You also talk about the need for the World Service to move
from radio more into televisionwhich I agree, having come
back from Morocco and seen all the satellite dishesand
that does seem to me to imply the need for a lot more resource.
Where is that going to come from?
Lord Carter of Coles: That is always the question
for TV. The reprioritisation, if you look at it, Voice of America
was quicker; it made a policy decision that it would stop broadcasting
in the native language to Eastern Europe and the BBC's numbers
are, with the sort of savings they have got out of that, around
£30 million a year. Looking at it simplistically, had we
stopped doing it three years ago we would have had £100 million
to spend on something of greater significance, so I do think there
is a need to be really quick off the mark in reprioritisation,
it is a very dynamic thing and you need to keep looking at it.
On the question of BBC World, the strength of the BBC brand is
so powerful and with the reliance of the world if you like on
TV an English language TV station is of great value. What it should
be I do not think I have a clear view on, but clearly we need
to be in that space. If you look at the sort of standing it is
held in where it does go through, people rely on it, people do
like it as a service. Whether it is good enough is a separate
Q1713 Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury:
When you talk about further foreign language television services,
you are talking about using BBC World television.
Lord Carter of Coles: BBC World is just English
and I think that will always remain English, that is the way it
is organised within the BBC. For further foreign language TV stations
there are various options. The Americans have looked at Urdu and
Persian, they have given some thought to that, and if the BBC
saw that the Arab station worked very well they would have to
give consideration to extending that, but I think one step at
a time probably, you prove one point and then go on from there.
Q1714 Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury:
Going back to the answer to the first question as to how to speed
up the BBC World Service's decisions about moving its resources
around, I was not absolutely clear as to who you thought should
be doing that.
Lord Carter of Coles: It is the BBC that should
be doing that, but they should be asked a question in terms of
their accountability down the chain, what are your priorities?
Are you making these decisions quickly enough? It is really just
the accountability, I think they should make the decision and
they should be pressed to do it speedily.
Q1715 Lord Maxton:
You yourself mentioned the internet and broadband technologies
and we have considered them as well, but to some extent do not
the broadband and, probably more importantly mobile, wireless
technology, to some extent make all of this, introducing television
services, rather irrelevant? Certainly it is in China; you can
put a firewall up against any form of landline but you cannot
put a firewall up against wireless technology, so they should
be into China and the Chinese should be able to get it. Is that
not the future and is that not the way to go, and the BBC website
is where we should be looking to see how we develop?
Lord Carter of Coles: The BBC has got this tri-media
strategy which I think is right. If you look back over 20 years,
the BBC has successfully migrated away from shortwave radio, but
if you look at communication patterns, the growth of FM radio
and drive time radio in the United States and drive time radio
in developed countries, I do not think it is a market you cannot
be in if you want to communicate and reach the population. That
is the distinct segment which I think will remain. TV is important,
particularly in developing countries where you have got media
fragmentation but the way in which television is watched still
lends itself to investment in TV. As the thing develops and looking
forward 20 years from now, significant resources will have to
be going into the internet because with broadband growth and the
growth of mobile phones, how people receive information, it is
there. The BBC has done a very good job on that; if you go and
talk to other governments about how they perceive us as a competitor
in this area, people are quite envious about what the BBC has
managed to do in electronic technology.
Q1716 Lord Maxton:
The great beauty of the internet as opposed to television or radio
is its ability to link, but it brings us back almost to the question
where we started and the Government's ability to influence in
a way the World Service, because if in fact the BBC website has
a story and says you can link to 10 Downing Street and watch the
Prime Minister talk about this, is that not maybe defeating the
purpose of the World Service?
Lord Carter of Coles: It is up to them to decide
that, they must make that decision. If they think that is good
news reporting I presume they should be allowed to do that.
Q1717 Lord Maxton:
I think that a great strength of the internet is this ability
to link from one across to different thingsit will give
you more news, more ideas, more thoughts on different subjects,
that sort of thing.
Lord Carter of Coles: The great strength of
the BBC is content. What the internet is about is content and
the BBC has got historically some of if not the greatest content
in the world. That is what gives us this wonderful position and
the coming of the internet actually gives us a real chance to
That sounds like an extremely good point to actually bring this
to an end unless any of my colleagues have further questions.
Lord Carter, thank you very much for making the report available
to us and thank you very much for the manner in which you answered
our questions. Perhaps if we have any other points we could write
Lord Carter of Coles: Of course. Thank you,
My Lord Chairman.
Chairman: Thank you.