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Annual Review 2005/06
Executive Summary and Assessment of the Governors’ BBC World Service and Global News Consultative Group

The governors’ BBC World Service and global news consultative group provide 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
Former Editor, The Economist
Sir Michael Perry CBESir Michael Perry, CBE
Former Chairman of Centrica plc
Stewart Purvis, CBEStewart Purvis, CBE
Former Chief Executive ITN

Review of BBC output

This year the research commissioned by the Consultative Group reviewed BBC World Service output in English for Africa, Urdu, Romanian, Persian and Spanish for South America.

Assessment of the consultative group

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

We were encouraged by the positive comments made by the respondents to both the radio and particularly the online output.This was most notably the case for current listeners and users of the services, but also pleasing was the positive feedback from first-time users of the services, particularly for the online output. We found that BBC World Service continues to be associated with the highest standards in global news broadcasting. It is considered to be authoritative and reliable and an excellent source of detailed news and information, especially on global affairs.

In light of recent polarising world events, and opinions about those events, our research provided an opportunity to gauge how well BBC World Service was perceived to have handled these difficult issues.We were pleased to conclude that BBC World Service has maintained its reputation for impartiality and objectivity.There were no accusations of bias on international issues from the respondents. A few issues were raised, however, at a national or regional level. For example, in Africa some respondents felt the BBC adopted a Western attitude to Africa by regarding the continent as a ‘problem’. In Iran most notably, respondents thought BBC World Service was a fairly reliable service – more so than local stations – but there was still some scepticism since local stations suggest the BBC reports a British line. However, Iranian respondents recognised the value of BBC World Service in providing an alternative voice, uncensored by the Iranian government.

BBC World Service’s authenticity as an international voice, reporting on global affairs, was recognised across the countries we examined. However at a more local level we were also pleased to see the Urdu service complimented on being highly in tune with events in Pakistan; and the African service winning praise for having a grass-roots African feel to many programmes, such as Focus on Africa and Africa Have Your Say, using African voices from across the continent in a way that other stations do not.

There has been increased competition from new radio stations in many of the countries reviewed this year, particularly in Africa, Mexico and Pakistan. It was encouraging to see that BBC World Service has retained its image as a solid and reliable source of news and that its journalism is regarded as providing more detail than other radio stations, including international competitors. However, we were made aware that the proliferation of more lively local stations was changing expectations of news programmes (notably in Pakistan and Africa); some younger non-listeners perceive BBC World Service presentation to lack dynamism and energy. It will be important therefore to monitor the risk of BBC World Service being moved by its listeners into a more marginal role than it currently enjoys.

In our 2005 report, we noted that the culture of interviewing had been raised by some panellists as an issue, particularly what they felt was an overly assertive attitude taken by presenters towards their interviewees.This year, we were pleased to note no such observations and, in Mexico, respondents particularly remarked on the expert handling of interviews by professional, well-informed presenters whose delivery was thought to be appropriately serious and formal.

The content of, and was widely regarded as comprehensive, detailed and, with a few exceptions, the websites came across to respondents as having a good mix of global perspective and credibility on national and regional news stories.The impartiality of the BBC’s online news – while not above question – was acknowledged and appreciated. Notably, most respondents took the impartiality of news reports on the websites for granted.

For non-users of BBC World Service, this research was the first time they had experienced the online sites and radio output.The online sites appealed to both non-users and users alike, to a greater degree than we found BBC World Service radio appealing to previous nonlisteners. We note that respondents felt the online service offered an accessible version of the BBC brand that appealed widely.

We have asked BBC World Service to consider a number of points raised by the respondents in the area of presentation. Whilst across the countries, the BBC websites were on the whole regarded as clear, consistent and easy to navigate – comparing very favourably to other similar sites visited – a minor number of respondents (consistent across the countries) did complain about over-busy, ‘cluttered’ home pages, which they believed were lacking in colour. Respondents in Mexico also cited difficulty at returning to the home page.

We were encouraged by the strong perception of educational value being derived from visiting the site, above and beyond keeping in touch with the news – something other comparative websites tended not to offer. Examples were sections that provided context and background, such as the Country Profiles and the language learning elements. In order to maximise the potential of the site, we urged BBC World Service management to address the claims from users of that the instructions for use of the ‘Learn English’ and ‘Participate’ pages were lacking. Similarly, users requested a fully functioning English/Urdu dictionary to increase the usability and educational value of the site.

There was a strong corpus of common opinion about the overall brand image of the BBC and the BBC World Service as being authoritative, but also somewhat staid and conservative. This came across in nearly all of the countries surveyed. However, contrasts came through in the descriptors applied to BBC online. Respondents described a brand that was immediately younger, less formal and much more in tune with modern British values.We were encouraged by this more diverse brand image.

In conclusion, feedback from the respondents satisfied us that our research – while inevitably limited and impressionistic – nevertheless provided a useful indication of a range of listener and potential listener views across the language services, and that BBC World Service management have been made aware of the key concerns of the respondents.
Group Report
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