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Annual Review 2004/05
Boards - Board of Governors' World Service and Global News Consultative Group Report

The Governors' BBC World Service and Global News Consultative Group provides the Governors with an independent external assessment of the range and quality of BBC World Service output.

Professor Monojit ChatterjiProfessor Monojit Chatterji
Professor of Applied Economics, University of Dundee
Bill EmmottBill Emmott
Editor, The Economist
Sir Michael Perry CBESir Michael Perry, CBE
Former Chairman of Centrica plc
Stewart Purvis, CBEStewart Purvis, CBE
Former Chief Executive ITN

The BBC's Global Reputation

In addition to specific Language Service reviews carried out annually, the Group called for a special study to be carried out in 2004/05 into the BBC's global reputation. The aim was to understand the reasons for the variation in this important aspect of BBC World Service's performance. It followed a decline in the BBC's global reputation for trust and objectivity in some markets after the 2003 Iraq war. The exercise was conducted by independent research organisations.

Assessment of the Consultative Group

Independent research evidence indicates that BBC World Service and Global News Division's reputation for trust and objectivity is higher than for other international broadcasters in virtually all markets surveyed.

We also welcome that the BBC's global reputation for trust and objectivity appears to have improved in markets where it suffered a reverse during and immediately after the Iraq war.

However inconsistencies in some of the results give us concerns about the survey methodology which we ask to be re-examined and clarified.

Review of BBC Output

This year the Consultative Group decided to modify the research methodology used to assess BBC output. In place of a structured questionnaire and scoring system we decided upon a listening panel approach in order to create the opportunity for new insights. The Group commissioned listening panel assessments of the BBC's output in English for Asia, Arabic, Russian, Indonesian and French for Africa.

Assessment of the Consultative Group

Overall we are satisfied that all BBC World Service output reviewed this year was of an extremely good standard and that no significant concerns were identified.

We are encouraged by the positive comments from panellists about the English radio output. There was praise for the network's depth, breadth, high journalistic quality and professionalism. We found that the sound and style of the network was liked by panellists as this adds to its vitality, immediacy and impact. The Group recognises the steps which have been taken by World Service to make globally significant stories relevant to locally based audiences – for example, its coverage of the Asian tsunami.

The culture of interviewing was raised by some panellists as an issue, particularly what they felt was an overly assertive and occasionally rude attitude taken by presenters towards interviewees. Some objected to this, others welcomed it as an essential tool in the quest for truth and understanding. The Group believes that a tough interviewing style is appropriate in some circumstances but it should not overstep the mark. We urge BBC World Service to remember the sensitivities of its diverse audience when conducting interviews, but without sacrificing its journalistic objectives and values.

The Group welcomes the strong praise given to the Grant-in-Aid funded internationally facing website for being an authoritative source of news and information. We note the views of panellists that the quality of its reporting was generally superior to other news sources which panellists had consulted. The Group believes that interactive elements add strongly to the websites appeal. We urge BBC World Service to continue to innovate in this area.

The Group recognises the good progress made by the BBC World English language television channel in the past two years. We observe that BBC World was felt by panellists to offer wider coverage and was better balanced than its competitors. We support the channel's attempts to increase its appeal in different markets through a more regional focus. At the same time, we ask BBC World to ensure that it maintains its identity by providing a global view, and to guard against too much of a London-based perspective.

This is the third year that the Group has reviewed the BBC's Arabic Service. We find that sound and solid progress has been made in modernising the format, sound and style of this important service. We note that the quality of news reporting has improved but believe that more can be achieved. There was criticism by some panellists that some interviews began without a proper introduction. The Group asks the service to ensure that the context for an interview is always explained so that the listener is properly positioned beforehand. We found the BBC's Arabic language website to be performing strongly. Panellists credited it for being interesting, relevant, credible, reliable and a detailed source of information. They seemed generally satisfied with what the website offered and applauded its comprehensiveness as well as its ease of navigation. However, the panellists were less happy with technical aspects. The Group asks the Arabic Service to examine ways to improve the look of its website as well as the technical experience for users.

In its 2004 Report, the Group was concerned about the sound and style of Russian Service programmes. We note that these aspects have improved in the perception of this year's assessors. However we are concerned that some Russian panellists found the depth of analysis insufficient. They also wanted more views from outside Russia about Russian affairs. As the Russian Service seeks to recover lost audience, the Group understands the desire to meet the needs of its FM rebroadcasting partners for pace and energy. We ask the Russian Service to continue its good progress towards making its programming more accessible to new FM audiences. But we also ask the Service to ensure that the BBC's brand values for depth, breadth and analysis are not sacrificed in the process.

The Group welcomes the positive comments made by panellists about the BBC's Indonesian Service, who described its programmes as comprehensive, accurate, timely and greatly enhanced by the variety and quality of its sources. We note that panellists found very little to criticise, and found the radio service to be superior to other international news sources. We ask the Service to maintain and build on this strong base.

The Group is pleased that the BBC's programming in French for Africa received praise for its accuracy, timeliness, ease of understanding, sound and style. It notes that amongst generally positive comments, there was criticism from some panellists that programmes were not sufficiently relevant to them. The Consultative Group reminds BBC World Service to ensure that the right balance is struck between its coverage of international and national stories, and to tailor its coverage and treatment to maximise relevance to audience groups in different language markets.

Last year the Group commissioned a special study into editorial standards which confirmed the BBC's output was impartial. This year, we welcome the fact that none of the listening panels felt that any of the BBC material they assessed was biased. We also found that panellists in Cairo judged the BBC's Arabic radio service to be less biased than the Al Jazeera TV channel. None of the languages assessed were criticised for having any anti-Islamic bias. The Group is most encouraged by these positive indicators.

BBC Board of Governors' BBC World Service and Global News Consultative Group Report
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