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
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
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
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.