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Annual Review 2003/04
International Governors Introduction

US Soldier, Middle East
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From Dame Pauline Neville-Jones
BBC International Governor

2003/04 was a year of considerable achievement for BBC World Service. Its successes occurred in the demanding environment of the aftermath of the war in Iraq, and continuing tensions in the Middle East. Covering international conflicts, and their repercussions, with accuracy and depth, against the backdrop of polarised world opinion is, arguably, the biggest test a broadcaster can face. Over Iraq, BBC World Service fully met it. At the same time, it continues to improve other aspects of its programmes and distribution – all evidence of an organisation which can respond strongly to short-term tests without neglecting the long-term challenges of ever more competitive broadcasting landscapes.

In times of global conflict, listeners worldwide turn to BBC World Service for news, analysis and debate. It expects to face intense scrutiny, and for audiences to measure its news output against the yardsticks of accuracy, timeliness and objectivity. It was therefore incumbent upon the Governors' World Service and Global News Consultative Group, which, under my chairmanship, is composed of distinguished individuals including non-broadcast journalists, to review the World Service's editorial processes and to subject its programmes and websites to rigorous outside examination.

The results were positive. We were satisfied that the World Service has systems in place to ensure daily editorial rigour. It has maintained high standards in its news programmes, and the studies concluded that its English and Arabic output, which was examined in detail, was impartial. The report of the Governors' World Service and Global News Consultative Group, gives more details of these special studies. Additional surveys, undertaken in all the most significant regions, provided strong evidence that in ninety percent of markets audiences rated BBC World Service as more objective and relevant than its main international radio competitor.

There was, naturally, considerable international interest in the Hutton Report. Its impact on audience perceptions of the BBC will need to be tracked in the months ahead. Initial research, however, indicates that abroad the Report's findings have not materially altered people's views of the BBC. Indeed, in some countries, it has reinforced audience perceptions that the BBC is editorially independent of the British Government.

Continuing investment is enabling BBC World Service to maintain its transformation from a shortwave broadcaster to a modern multi-media organisation which reaches out to new, and especially younger, audiences. Crucial to this strategy are two elements: the development of World Service online sites, English language and vernacular, both of which saw significant increases in traffic and, secondly, the acquisition of partnerships with FM radio stations to ensure local distribution in a world where the difficulty of shortwave audibility attracts fewer listeners. The World Service has had considerable success in this, but the difficulty of finding suitable partners in some places or of overcoming local obstacles in others, accounts in good part for the slight decline to 146 million in the size of the estimated World Service weekly audience. Notwithstanding this, the World Service has one third more listeners than any comparable international radio broadcaster.

The dangerous and unstable global environment sets the context for BBC World Service activities over the next few years. Top of the agenda is turbulent change in the Islamic world and the relationship between the Islamic societies and the West.

Broadcast media have special responsibilities: when they give a distorted picture, they help create a fertile breeding ground for mistrust and suspicion. Accurate and impartial information will be at a premium if greater understanding is to be achieved.

In 2003, BBC World Service developed the concept of the interactive World Forum. The first special online site – Islam and the West, in English, Arabic, Persian and Urdu – gives users a chance to make known their views and to question world leaders about their policies. The forum is a model for the "global conversation" which is a centrepiece of the World Service's new strategy, and is a mark of its ambition to develop multi-media, multi-lingual services. BBC World Service has produced landmark programmes during the past year which have brought considerable international acclaim. Big global issues such as HIV/Aids (covered by BBC World Service in a comprehensive season of programmes across all 43 languages), trade issues and the environment have also been covered, on a scale and in a depth no other international broadcaster has so far attempted.

BBC World Service will face intense challenges in the next five years. In India, Russia, North Africa, China and parts of the Middle East the service has to confront decline in its audiences because of local obstacles to FM partnerships, whether political or regulatory. This is a loss for the BBC but also, I believe, for would-be audiences in these countries which are deprived of the wider perspectives which interactive radio and online can bring them. Maintaining the BBC World Service's reputation as a reliable source of trusted news and information - a top BBC priority - will be vital to its ability to act as a channel of communication within, and between, communities. It is hard to think of a more cost effective way of creating trust at grass roots level.

Dame Pauline Neville-Jones Many voices, one world 'Have your say' poster, Africa
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International Governor's introduction
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