The Governors World Service Consultative Group was originally established following the 1996 BBC
restructuring to provide the Governors with independent external advice on the range and quality
of World Service output. The Consultative Group aims to review World Service output in English and
other languages over a three-year cycle.
In 2002/03 the Consultative Group reviewed output in English, Arabic, Hausa, Somali, Portuguese, Spanish
and Chinese. This selection followed the three-year research cycle, but was also informed by the political
developments in the Middle East and the wish to review World Service output (Arabic) to that region.
For each of these languages, a number of assessors were recruited by an independent market research
and consultancy firm. Up to six assessors were chosen for each output category and a total of 46 reports
were received. The assessors were asked to listen to up to ten hours of output spread over one week
in December 2002. The assessors reports were compiled during a very busy period in terms of world
news, with the report from the UN arms inspectors in Iraq dominating the agenda.
The Consultative Group is satisfied that all the World Service output reviewed this year attracted high
scores for authority and accuracy. This is particularly commendable since the week of output selected
for the assessment was exceptional in terms of the world news agenda.
1 Dame Pauline Neville-Jones DCMG
BBC Governor (Chair) 2 Professor Monojit Chatterji
Professor of Applied Economics
University of Dundee
3 Bill Emmott
Editor: The Economist 4 Sir Michael PerryCBE
Chairman, Centrica plc 5 William Shawcross
Journalist and author
The Consultative Group notes that the BBC Arabic Service is an important language service performing
well in a challenging market. Recent data shows that in March 2003, during the Iraq War, usage of the
Arabic online site increased by 135%, to a record of over 20 million page impressions. The Group notes
that some of the scores given by the assessors are lower than the previous year, when the Arabic output
was also reviewed by the Group. The Consultative Group urges World Service to continue with its
programme of improvement, notably with the aim of:
Obtaining a wide range of opinions within its news output
Involving listeners more in the output
Ensuring presentation style is more contemporary and continues to be seen be as independent,
fair, impartial and authoritative
Increasing the appeal to a broader range of age groups
The Consultative Group notes the impressive impact made by the World Service output to Africa in
English, Hausa and Somali, as well as the high scores this output attracted from assessors. The Consultative
Group believes that the World Service output to Africa has a strong educational dimension, bearing in
mind its appeal across all socio-economic groups.
The Consultative Group commends World Service for achieving a significant impact in the USA in the
context of a highly competitive media environment, with a weekly audience of 3.9 million, its highest ever.
It notes that co-productions with American public radio are crucial in attracting that audience. However,
it asks World Service to keep such co-productions under review to ensure that they demonstrate the
BBCs strengths of accuracy, impartiality, relevance and depth, and do not lose BBC tone and style.
The Consultative Group observes that the World Service faces difficulties in making an impact in Latin
America in Spanish and Portuguese. The Group is concerned that the awareness of the BBC output in
the region appears to be low and agrees that high profile local partnerships are key to the delivery of
the output both on radio and online.
The Consultative Group notes that restrictions imposed by the Chinese authorities on the distribution of
the BBC World Service limits its impact, both on radio and online. In that context, the Consultative Group
urges World Service to develop local partnerships based on the provision of education, business, science
and language training programmes, which the Chinese authorities are less likely to object to. The World
Service should also review the definition of the target audience for its Mandarin online site and the scope
for broadening its agenda beyond news and current affairs.
The Consultative Group notes the continuing growth in usage of the World Service English news online
site. In particular in March 2003, during the Iraq War, usage of the site grew to its highest level ever at
over 150 million page impressions, a growth of 80% compared to the previous month. The Consultative
Group feels that this provides an impressive testimonial of the value of the site for a world audience.
The Consultative Group believes that the site could be more actively promoted on World Service radio.