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Annual Review 2003/04
 
 
Director's Overview
Iraqi police guard burning pipeline
Click here for picture captions

UPHOLDING THE VALUES OF IMPARTIALITY, OBJECTIVITY AND ACCURACY

From Nigel Chapman
Director, BBC World Service

It was a challenging year which significantly tested the core strengths of BBC World Service. In an increasingly divided world, our editorial values of impartiality, objectivity and accuracy proved more important than ever. For audiences from the Middle East to the United States, we helped to make sense of events that were often violent and unforeseen.

The global news agenda in 2003/04 was dominated by events in Iraq. The year began with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in April 2003 and ended with fierce fighting in the Iraqi town, Falluja,12 months later. Alongside the violence in Iraq, setbacks in the Middle East peace process and the continuing "war against terror" dominated the headlines. The BBC's global network of correspondents played a vital part in reporting and analysing events, often in dangerous circumstances. In Iraq itself, outstanding reporting by BBC News correspondents Caroline Hawley, Paul Wood and Magdi Abdelhadi was reinforced by our team of Arabic Service reporters deployed in key cities. The Service moved its production teams closer to its audiences by opening a production office in Baghdad in addition to a major new production centre in Cairo.

In the first full year for the BBC World Service and Global News Division, the ability to co-ordinate international radio, television and online operations paid dividends. Major interviews with world leaders such as Tony Blair, George Bush, and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan were carried on all three media as were regular editions of the interactive programme Talking Point. Guests included UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan. Talking Point is now produced in a range of languages, and during the year the programme took to the road to cover elections in India and Russia.

The long-term potential of the BBC's interactive debating forums is clear from the success of online sites for users from the Islamic world. Under the BBC's aegis, Moroccans, Saudi Arabians, Jordanians and Iraqis are now talking to each other about issues ranging from girls' education and the role of women in society to the future of democracy.

New media development underpins a growing dialogue between audiences and programme makers. Gone are the days when audience feedback came in the form of letters on a slow boat from the other side of the world. Today's relationship is two-way and dynamic. Emails and SMS text messages are often slotted into live programmes while they are on air.

The international impact of BBC World Service and Global News Division's new media sites continues to grow at a very rapid rate. Monthly page impressions rose from 228 million in March 2003 to 279 million a year later – the highest-ever figure, equating to more than 16 million monthly individual users.

On radio, the increased availability of BBC World Service programmes on FM has been essential to meet fierce competition from local and national stations. By the end of the year, World Service output was being broadcast on FM in 139 capital cities. There was a slight fall in the estimated global radio audience, however, from 150 million to 146 million weekly listeners, largely because it has proved difficult for the BBC World Service to obtain an FM presence in some areas. Losses were registered in Western Europe, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Ukraine.

Short wave audiences to all international broadcasters are in long-term decline, and the BBC is no exception. The World Service's loss of an estimated 14 million short wave listeners in the last year was only partially offset by a rise in FM listening. However, beneath the global figures lie some very positive developments.

In Iraq, the launch of FM broadcasts in Baghdad, Basra and other major cities helped to secure a weekly audience of 1.8 million. BBC engineers developed innovative solutions including portable, containerised and solar-powered transmitters to get services up and running quickly. These are proving highly effective in Afghanistan, where a new dedicated service in Persian, Pashto, Uzbek and English was launched in 2003. The service has a weekly reach of 60% in Kabul.

Our biggest audiences remain in Africa. In Ghana, the BBC is the country's leading station. In Tanzania, six out of ten people are regular listeners. But audiences have also reached a record 4.7 million in the world's most developed media market – the United States. More than one in five opinion formers in New York and Washington DC listen each week. In Britain too, 1.3 million people are listening to World Service programmes, which are now available on a range of digital and cable services.

In the Asian subcontinent, the World Service is fighting back against audience decline. More than 60,000 people in rural northern India turned out to see the Voice of the People roadshow, which visited 40 towns in 50 days in 2004.

BBC Monitoring demonstrated its continuing value to all its stakeholders across Whitehall, and in journalistic terms to the BBC, too. The teams in Caversham were able to actively track, check and translate Libyan outlets when the country renounced its programmes to develop weapons of mass destruction in December. This gave Prime Minister Tony Blair the confirmation to make his first statement about the breakthrough. The service received its highest ever level of approval in surveys conducted with its customers at home and abroad.

The World Service's ability to make a difference to people's lives was vividly demonstrated by the HIV/Aids season. The Executive Director of the Global Fund to fight Aids, Professor Richard Feacham, described the initiative as 'probably the biggest, boldest and most impactful broadcasting response to the global challenge of Aids yet mounted, which has brought huge credit to the BBC around the world'. The season was reinforced by the work of the World Service Trust, the BBC charity which uses media to reduce poverty in developing countries. The Trust is riding high, with record funding and the launch of major projects in Nigeria, Cambodia and Burma.

I would like to pay my own tribute to all our staff and contributors for everything they are doing, often at risk to their own safety, to produce programmes and services of consistently high quality, which reinforce the World Service's reputation as the world's leading international broadcaster.

'THE BBC'S NETWORK OF CORRESPONDENTS PLAYED A VITAL PART IN ANALYSING EVENTS IN DANGEROUS AND DEMANDING CIRCUMSTANCES'...
Nigel Chapman Many voices, one world Jawad Amir, Iraq
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Director's overview
 
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