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Annual Review 2004/05
Director's Overview
A soldier picks his way through rubble in Beslan
The Beslan school siege coverage won the Sony News Output Award


From Nigel Chapman
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 and culture.

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 news sites.

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.

Making best use of extra resources

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.

Online growth

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,, 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 partner organisations.

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.

'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.'
Nigel Chapman BBC World Service rose to the challenge of covering the range of major news stories, including the Indian Ocean tsunami English and Arabic news teams worked closely together to provide coverage of Iraq's historic elections
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