|The Beslan school siege coverage won the Sony News Output Award
Director, BBC World Service
Meeting the global demand for accurate information, analysis and debate
in a year of exceptional news events presented BBC World Service with
a series of very testing challenges.
Unlike the previous 12 months, when
events in Iraq and the Middle East had dominated the daily news agenda,
the range, intensity and geographical spread of major news stories was
unprecedented. It included the Indian Ocean tsunami, the Beslan school
siege, the US and Ukrainian elections and a significant enlargement of
the European Union. BBC World Service rose to those challenges with
confident, reactive and sure-footed coverage. We produced some of our
strongest-ever news programmes, pioneered the use of new interactive
media and provided enhanced services where they were needed most.
This judgement is supported by independent research commissioned by
BBC World Service. In almost all the countries surveyed, our scores for
trust, objectivity and relevance improved; in some regions, where we had
seen falls during the Iraq war, we returned to previous high levels. In the
Middle East and wider Islamic world, audience numbers and scores for
reputation rose in most of our target countries: Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan,
Bangladesh and Indonesia. There are early signs, therefore, that our strategy
to concentrate more programme resources and marketing expertise in
these areas is paying off.
BBC World Service capitalised on the investment it has made in
transforming itself from a short wave radio broadcaster into a leading
international multimedia network. We worked closely with our colleagues
in BBC Global News Division, extending the synergy between our
international television, radio and online services and working towards
the 'global conversation' that forms the heart of our joint strategy. We
strengthened our co-operation with local FM and online partners
worldwide, making it easier for people to hear and access our material,
particularly where short-wave is in long-term and irreversible decline.
Our correspondents helped to put the events in context while new
interactive services made it possible for growing numbers of people to
contribute and comment on world events. We opened new channels of
communication between communities that are divided by distance, language
As so often happens, looking back on the year, it is individual people who
bring the value of the services we provide into sharp focus. On a visit I
made to Kabul to see the work of our programme makers in Afghanistan,
an old man came up to me. Recalling the dark days of the Taleban,
he put it quite simply: 'You were our school, our university on the world',
he told me. 'You kept us in touch with Afghanistan and each other.' The
Taleban's harsh regime may be over but the BBC continues to be of vital
importance in Afghanistan, where our programmes in Pashto and Persian
are now available via FM in 14 cities. The latest survey in five provinces
showed that 67% of the people are regular BBC listeners, ahead of all
broadcasters, including national radio, and the total audience is up by
two million to 2.8 million.
Appreciation of what the BBC has to offer is by no means confined to
regions that were until recently deprived of free media. In the United
States, for example, independent research shows that the appeal of the
BBC's unique international perspective is greater than ever. The radio
audience has reached a record five million listeners, and as many as
40% of American online news users now access the BBC's international
These audience figures in countries that can be said to epitomise the
extremes of global development helped underpin an improvement in our
overall estimated weekly listening levels. The overall total grew slightly by
three million to 149 million regular listeners, which remains at least 50%
more than any other international radio broadcaster. The growth was
achieved despite unremitting competition from domestic FM stations and
television networks and the inexorable decline of short wave in most
developed markets. There remains no room for complacency, however.
Audiences fell in 22 countries. The global audience in English is down by
six million to 39 million. The losses are mainly in Africa, traditionally a
BBC World Service heartland. But there were encouraging increases
in key markets such as India, up 4.8 million following a successful Hindi
marketing campaign in rural areas, and in Bangladesh and Indonesia.
The BBC's performance in Iraq and throughout the Arab world was one
of the year's outstanding achievements. Arabic and English language news
teams worked closely together to provide coverage of Iraq's historic
elections. The BBC's new FM transmitter network in the country made a
crucial difference in ensuring salience in an increasingly competitive media
climate. The measure of success has been an increase of 1.8 million listeners
in our weekly radio audience in Iraq to a new level of 3.3 million. The BBC
news bureau in Baghdad gives us an important edge in reporting from a
country that remains difficult and dangerous. For our news teams it
complements the new bureau in Cairo, where a significant number of
programmes are now made for the Arabic Service.
Stakeholders placed confidence in us. The UK Government announced an
increase in funding of £27m over the period 2005-2008. This will allow us to
channel additional funds into expanding FM in major cities and strengthening
our impact in the Islamic world. Although no new funds were made available
for the launch of a television news service in Arabic, it remains an important
strategic aim. We continue to pursue it in discussion with the Foreign Office
by looking to see how far we can fund such a service from within our
enhanced baseline. We are committed to making the extra money go as far
as possible and ensuring that all investments are sustainable by increasing
efficiency and reviewing value for money of our support services. In the
wider context of UK public diplomacy, we welcomed the opportunity to
provide information to the review being carried out by Lord Carter of Coles.
International traffic to the BBC's online services grew to 324 million page
impressions in March 2005, up from 279 million a year earlier. Although
the annual increase was lower than expected, the rise in the number of
individual users was higher, growing 29% from 16.6 million to 21.5 million.
Our in depth sites now bring together a wealth of information and analysis,
including audio and video, on major issues such as Islam and the West, the
changing face of China and development in Africa. We made significant
progress towards developing fully interactive multimedia sites in key
languages, including Arabic, Spanish, Russian and Urdu in addition to English.
Interactive programmes such as Talking Point have pioneered a new form of
global debate on issues of the day that brings together radio, television and
online audiences. The online service for Brazil, bbcbrasil.com, began piloting
the use of streamed video content, which will also be offered in Arabic and
Spanish during 2005. Partnerships with leading internet service providers
and other media organisations proved highly effective in generating traffic.
The BBC's international public service role as a provider of information
at a time of crisis came to the fore on a number of occasions during
the year. After the tsunami, almost two million people looked at the
BBC's online missing persons notice board. In Nepal, we provided
crucial information following the 'coup' staged by King Gyanendra. The
BBC Nepali service launched an additional early morning programme
after local FM stations stopped relaying BBC news.
BBC World Service coverage of the Beslan siege won the Sony News Output
Award in the UK. In business programming, our teams were awarded the
prestigious Wincott Award and the distinguished correspondent Peter Day,
who presents Global Business, received the Lifetime Achievement Award in
the Work Foundation Workworld Media Awards.
This past year has seen the implementation of a major project to move
our programme making technology from a tape to a digital environment.
Over 1,500 members of staff have been trained in the use of our digital
production system, which is sustaining our non-English output.
Based on new equipment and faster work practices, digital technology
has given us more flexibility to create and reuse the content. We can
now store nearly five million hours of audio. This gives us an advantage
in competitive environments where we have to provide programmes
in different formats for various means of distribution around the world.
We are now better placed to meet the demands of our audiences.
BBC Monitoring made a vital contribution to the BBC's international
news coverage. Its intimate knowledge of the media and ability to track
news sources in some of the world's most difficult regions played a
particularly important part in interpreting the pattern of events in Iraq
and during Ukraine's 'orange revolution'. It carried out these responsibilities
at a time when its funding regime and resources were under review.
Despite this uncertainty, the professionalism and dedication of the teams
at Caversham, and overseas, shone through.
It was another year of firsts for the BBC World Service Trust, which
continued to pioneer ways of using communications for development.
Highlights include Cambodia's first television soap opera, which extended
the Trust's outstanding record of using mass media to fight HIV/Aids.
In Afghanistan a new programme modelled on the UK's Woman's Hour
celebrates the lives of Afghan women in ways that have never been
possible before. The Trust's work in education, health and support
for independent media was funded by a record £13.6m from
Once again I would like to thank every member of staff and all those who
have contributed to our programmes. The dedication and skill of our teams
is valued all over the world and enhances both the BBC's and Britain's
reputation wherever our programmes and services touch people's lives.