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Lingua franca

Richard Porter | 12:55 UK time, Tuesday, 17 October 2006

How many English speakers are there around the world? It's a question I started researching when a newspaper journalist interviewed me last week about the launch of a French news channel, France 24. The question was relevant because it turns out that much of the French channel will be broadcast in English - and for a nation which protects its language so fiercely, this must have been a very hard decision.

bbcworld_logo_3.jpgBut it's also a pragmatic one. The number of people who can speak English is growing, and it's becoming the international language of business and, of course, the internet in many parts of the world. Exactly how many people speak English is a matter of some disagreement.

If you look at some of the online encyclopedias, such as Wikipedia or Encarta, there's a rough agreement that 350 million people - give or take 20 or 30 million - speak English as their first language. When you try to account for people who speak English as a secondary language, the estimates diverge from another 150 million to more than 500 million.

Either way it seems to lift English up from the fourth or fifth most spoken language to second, behind Chinese. French, according to Encarta, comes in at 11th, with 78 million speakers. So on that basis, you can see why producing some of its output in English is a necessary step if France 24 is going to make any impact in the international market.

It's an increasingly crowded market. CNN has been there for 25 years and BBC World Service Television - later to become BBC World - launched 15 years ago. There are four more English channels either on air or planned to launch...Russia Today (you can watch it here) is on air and of course the much-hyped Al Jazeera International is due to launch at some point, although nobody is saying exactly when. Even the Iranians are getting in on the act, announcing this month the intention to launch a 24 hour news channel in English, to be called "Press".

So why the rush to launch so many news channels? I think it divides into two reasons. First, because the demand (and need) for international news is growing (BBC World's audiences are increasing in just about every market) and so many of us these days have a direct interest in global affairs that these channels are becoming increasingly relevant... decisions taken outside national borders may affect our jobs, or the state of our environment, or indeed our security.

The second reason is politics. To quote President Chirac, France "must be at the forefront of the global battle of images, that's why I am resolved that our country should have an international news channel". An Iranian official quoted last week said Press was necessary to provide “a different perspective on the region’s issues”.

Both BBC World and CNN exist because of the first reason. We're there because we think it's important to offer a high-quality service of international news to global audiences, in the same way as the World Service does on the radio (neither, incidentally, funded out of the British licence fee).

We think the public service values of the BBC's domestic journalism also have a place in the global arena and in doing so we bring benefit back to Britain. Plus we also help sustain an international network of correspondents and bureaux which benefits UK viewers and listeners.

And of course we welcome all competition... because without it, we risk becoming complacent or stale. So I will be watching eagerly when France 24 goes on air later this year, and perhaps I won't even need to brush up on my French to do so.


  • 1.
  • At 02:19 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • David Wilson wrote:

Richard - interesting article, it is indeed a crowded market...

Whilst you are correct to state that neither BBC World or World Service are funded out of the British licence fee, it would seem relevant and may assist the reader's understanding of how these organisations are funded, to know that both do receive funding from British taxpayers.

"The BBC World Service's broadcasting costs are met by a separate Parliamentary Grant-in-Aid, totalling £245m in 2006/07."

Whilst we're on the subject of new rolling news channels, you forgot to mention the launch of BBC Arabic Television (to be funded by the British taxpayer)

BBC World Service 2010: Arabic television

Oh, and the soon to launch BBC Iran Television (funded by the British taxpayer)

BBC to launch TV channel for Iran

"The £15m-a-year service is due to begin in early 2008, a few months after the start of a similar network in Arabic. Funding, from the Foreign Office, will be on top of the grant-in-aid sum paid each year to the BBC World Service."

I don't grudge the BBC the money for providing the service, but I do grudge not getting a nod for having provided it via my taxes!

  • 2.
  • At 02:37 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Ian wrote:

Interesting to see a discussion about other news broadcasters on The Editors Blog.

When reading responses on this blog, one consistent theme, particularly amongst the posts that are persistently hostile to the BBC, is how little mention there is of other broadcasters, and how other broadcasters perform in areas where the BBC is seen, in the eyes of some, to be failing, and vice versa.

  • 3.
  • At 03:28 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Bill wrote:

So the agenda is not so much news as it is a method to project the nations political agenda elsewhere

  • 4.
  • At 03:33 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Dave wrote:

That article "Lingua Franca" must have been a joke surely? Does the guy writing it expect people to believe that the BBC is respected??? I remember Andrew Gilligan.....I saw that Panorama on football transfers. I see dumbed down BBC Breakfast every morning. Frankly the BBC is a waste of my licence fee and cannot be trusted as a news organisation. I welcome Aljazeera and the Iranian and French channels. In a truly global world, people will have access to HIGHER QUALITY ALTERNATIVES and the BBC will cease to exist and that can only be a good thing

  • 5.
  • At 04:03 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Travis wrote:

Really, Dave - tell us how you truly feel. Don't hold back. Give us your sane, unbiased opinion.

Seriously. Al-Jazeera over BBC? Perhaps Dave is the English translation of Ahmadinejhad?

  • 6.
  • At 04:11 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Colin Peckham wrote:

Oh good grieg Dave. Come back to Earth. The BBC is one of the most respected broadcasters ever, and while I don't always agree with their take on things, their integrity is usually beyond reasonable doubt...

  • 7.
  • At 04:12 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • aaron a. wrote:


As an American, I watch BBC World News daily in order to gain some real world perspective. Calling CNN an international news service is only true for the most pressing of world events. The vast majority of CNN's coverage are localized domestic "sensation" stories, in which the number of people directly effected is often just a handful.

That said, I look forward to more international news services in English, as like most Americans I wasn't required to learn a second language. :/

  • 8.
  • At 04:13 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • fj wrote:

I have to agree with 'Dave', at least as far as BBC World is concerned. I spent an hour watching the channel last night and not only was it technically awful, with constant cuts back and forth between trailers, ads, blank screens and pointles short features, but it was also repetitive and shallow. I hate to think this is what the world sees of the great Beeb. The competition won't have a difficult time beating that _ in French or English.

  • 9.
  • At 04:17 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • janet tyson wrote:

Oh, please. As an American living in Texas, I look to the BBC online as a better source than anything available in the US. It offers a much greater breadth of news, and considerably more depth on issues. I'm sure it could be better, maybe was better at one point than it is now, as dumbing down has become a universal phenomenon. But I'd hate to see it cease to exist. As for Aljazeera and other online sources, I'm always interested to see how they interpret the news -- just as any news orgnization, the BBC included, does.

  • 10.
  • At 04:19 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Pembroke, NH wrote:

Since I started using the Mozilla Firefox browser I have been enjoying BBC coverage on the internet. Keep up the good work. But I will take a look at F24.

  • 11.
  • At 04:22 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Bill wrote:

It surely is a good thing that other areas of the world should be able to express their point of view all be it using the medium of English, perhaps this will address the imbalance of lies and propaganda coming from the ultra right in the current Bush administration in the U.S.

The question cannot be simply *How many people can read and understand the English language*, because English is a common denominator or baseline language.

United Nations debates take place in many languages, yet the outcome results are commonly announced in English for world consideration.

Newscasts are made worldwide in English and other languages as well, however, when only news in English is available it is translated into hundreds of other native languages for dozens of various countries populations.

As a baseline language, English has a multiplier effect and has a far more profound effect in today*s world regardless of the actual numbers of persons who actually speak and understand it. = TG

I agree with the first poster. Although I link to the BBC a lot in my blog, I also criticize the articles I link to.

After two years, it has become increasingly obvious that the BBC promotes the party line of whichever party is currently in power in the UK. It will be quite refreshing to see an English language alternative to the BBC.

Don't get me wrong here, FOX and CNN are biased as well. However, they tend to bias the same way you Brits do. Besides, I can't get them in the EU.

- Slamlander, Neuchatel, CH

  • 14.
  • At 04:28 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Adam wrote:

I can't speak about the BBC's domestic offerings, but as a resident of the US, I can say that BBC World is quite highly respected (at least the half-hour and full hour news broadcasts I have access to). "Dave" may complain about his licence fee and the programming it pays for, but the independently funded, international news programming is first-rate. It's certainly a much higher standard of international news coverage than anything provided by American television. News offerings from other sources are, of course, a most welcome addition.

  • 15.
  • At 04:33 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Jason Hewitt wrote:

I think the BBC is marvellous and provides an unequalled service. I hope it will continue doing so for a very long time to come. The standard of the BBC is very high, and numerous recent documentaries e.g. "The Queen at 80" in April, news broadcasts on many important issues including Global warming, and dramas (like "Jane Eyre") have shown that.

The BBC is respected, but like every great national institution it has its ups and downs. The only complaint I have, as a ninteen year old student, is that the BBC doesn't broadcast enough programmes geared towards people in my age group, and I feel that that should be addressed.

As regards the idea of France 24, it must be welcomed, as anything that offers more choice to the consumer must always be a good thing, and also it will be interesting to see the world from a French point of view.

  • 16.
  • At 04:35 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Mike wrote:

It is a pragmatic but also a strange decision. If estimates of 78 million French speakers around the world are accurate, by subtracting the 62 million who live in France (and would be unlikely to watch a French news channel in English), the remaining audience is either 16 million overseas French speakers or anybody else around the world curious enough to watch the news in English but from a typically French perspective.
(Having lived in France for 7 years, I do not noice anything strikingly objective about their the news reports).

  • 17.
  • At 04:43 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Paddy wrote:

I'm afraid I have to agree that BBC World is monumentaly awful. I'm a huge fan of the many and varied services the Beeb provides but its such a shame the rest of the world gets BBC World as the BBC's international television channel. The World Service on the radio, however, is global media at its best. Hands down. Perhaps the guys in televison can take a leaf out of the radio departments book?

  • 18.
  • At 04:44 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • gordon wrote:

Whilst the first comment may not seem to think so the BBC is respected. Firstly there is no need to confuse breakfast TV with news services. Secondly the integrity of the BBC when compared to some of the American channels is of a much higher standard. Finally the fact that the organisation has a scandel or two is not really even a big issue anymore. Look at the government, the FA, ad nauseum. There is no other service offering the indepth level at local, national and global levels.
Hate to sound like a fanboy for the BBC, but Dave mate, you are way off the mark,

  • 19.
  • At 04:48 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • M. Asghar wrote:

Because of the 'statu quo maitaining mess' in the world by the so-called western media such as BBC and CNN, the peoples are looking for new channels in other parts of the world, to have a balanced view of what is happening around them.The sooner these channels are in the market, the better it will for the globalised world with its new geopolitical order that is taking over fast.

  • 20.
  • At 04:57 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Ian wrote:

I think fj at #8 has raised a fair criticism of BBC World in that, technically, the presentation is not always up to the standard of the rest of the BBC’s output. There are occasional mishaps and the channel can sometimes appear to be slightly disjointed when it cuts from live news to recorded programmes. I understand the gallery of BBC World is relatively short-staffed, and sometimes this does show on air. The “break-filler” can also get very repetitive after a while. Whilst I would never advocate adopting the presentation techniques of the US networks, the channel could do with a tightening up of presentation in places. However, the countdown at the top of the hour is fantastic!

Finally, to Dave at #4, Breakfast TV has never been known for its high-brow content (save for The Channel 4 Daily). Remember TV-AM’s short-lived “mission to explain” which took the channel to the brink of bankruptcy?

  • 21.
  • At 05:03 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • frank ehmke wrote:

The only way the West can co-exist with the Muslim world is to try and understand them. Why do they hate us?Do they really hate us? What exacly is Islam?
Here in South Africa we almost had a
horrible racist war were it not for a better understanding of one another.
We are still talking and there is still violence but we are at least beginning to co-exist in peace, understanding and mutual respect.
The BBC's Arabic news service could just clear up a lot of misunderstanding

  • 22.
  • At 05:05 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Phil wrote:

Re: Dave.
I always find comments like this highly amusing. Not because people would tear apart one of the world's best broadcasters (there's always one) but that they would actually do so on a service that they find so abhorent in the first place.

How many people honestly believe that the new Iranian channel or an American network would have printed comments from one of their viewers that were so uncomplimentary?

Conservative elements lambast the Beeb for its apparent bias, as too do the liberals or left-wing.
As an old political / journalistic motto goes - if you're annoying every element of the political establishment you're doing your job properly.
Surely that is the yardstick by which the BBC's news coverage should be judged?

Keep it up BBC.

  • 23.
  • At 05:13 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Phil Linehan wrote:

The Deutsche Welle staff speak excellent English and I have no doubt the French will do equally well. Dare one hope that the BBC will be shamed into following suit?

  • 24.
  • At 05:25 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Jean-Bernard Brisset wrote:

This new channel, whether it is spoken in french or in english, will still be state-controled.
In a country where there is a new law every 6 months against bad thinking (the last one condemns the denying of the Armenian Holocaust)one
can't expect free expression and free press. Therefore, as a frenchman, if I want to hear news in english, which I mostly do, I shall stick to CNN or BBC.
Jean-Bernard Brisset

  • 25.
  • At 05:26 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • P. Alderson wrote:

Perspective, perspective, perspective. When you say that the BBC is a crap news organization I think you need to make a clarification. A crap news organization as compared to what? In the US we have multiple news programs. Multiple news programs that cover the US and its interest's abroad. No news of europe the EU, Asia, australia or anywhere else for that matter, and when they have nothing news worthy within the US or its interests abroad (at the moment this includes iraq, israel, and north korea) they just feed us some papparazi bullocks. They dont even bother taking the time to do some actual "world" news. Most americans consider BBC to be one of the more respectable news organizations out there. I certainly wish that the US news organizations would do some reporting on Europe, Asia and the rest of the world so that I would not have to remain ignorant of everything going on.

  • 26.
  • At 05:32 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Asim Javed wrote:

To compare the BBC to US Media outlets is ludicrous - News media in the States is pathetic in terms of international coverage, and wholly biased towards the current conservative administration.

With regards to other news sources, they are to be whole-heartedly welcomed. As a Canadian, we do get some other points of view up here that differ from our Southern neighbour, but not nearly different enough to inform a balanced opinion of world events.

Instead of us presuming to welcome the new channels to the broadcast world, perhaps its the new channels that should be welcoming us to their world-view.


  • 27.
  • At 05:42 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Kelly Zak wrote:

I think you Brits who bash the BBC should think twice; you are truly lucky to have the BBC. I'm Canadian, I consider the BBC to be the best news source in the world. No where else does one get those in depth news pieces where the journalist goes into Niger, for example. The BBC is very liberal and honest, unlike the two major news channels in the USA; CNN is a corporate driven channel and Fox news is a Republican party propoganda machine (which is banned in Canada by the way). Why else are Americans the way the way they are? Be thankful for the BBC; I am.

Launching of France 24 is a Great News. It will help towards ultimate unity of mankind. The peace loving France will have more say on international affairs. Hope French journalists will not get bought by supermafias like in the US.

  • 29.
  • At 05:53 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Brad wrote:

Jason Hewitt is exactly correct when he says, "anything that offers more choice to the consumer must always be a good thing". There is no question in my mind that we need more choices. Too often I hear regurgitated headlines without any depth or breadth of understanding. It is important that we allow F24 the same chance as CNN or BBC.

I do feel bad for heaping more on Dave, but compared to Fox News, BBC's programs are refreshingly neutral in terms of how stories are covered. If you're looking to be educated about daily events vs. being entertained the BBC isn't the worst place to start.

  • 30.
  • At 05:53 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Farooq Iftikhar wrote:

This article has overlooked Chinese international news channel, CCTV9, available in English here in the U.S.
The French approach to world affairs has been significantly different from the US/UK groups' policies (aired on CNN/BBC) in recent years. France 24 in English can perhaps in the future explain to the international audience why "The French Fries" suddenly became "Freedom Fries", etc.

  • 31.
  • At 06:00 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Jean wrote:

All hail to the BBC. I grew up on BBC via radio, listened to a general knowledge competition in the 70s and today use them as my first source of world news via the internet.

  • 32.
  • At 06:06 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • ellipse wrote:

The more the better, I say.

I like BBC world as another view to CNN, PBS, CBS, CBC, ABC, NBC, and (ha ha ha ha)FOX. There's also Australian media. Tho all of the above have an American-English view, the Germans have DW in English, and on the web sites in English from Spiegel(German), and India, Japan, Russia, and the Czech Republic abound.

If one reads a number of these regularly, surely the truth will fall out somewhere, no matter the spin a few may try to place.

  • 33.
  • At 06:13 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Kyuu Eturautti wrote:

It's saddening to see that while more international news channels open, it's getting harder to view them. At least here in Finland, the cable and satellite companies are putting a price tag on everything, including for example BBC World and CNN. Watching these news channels is simply becoming too expensive to be useful. Earlier, they were considered "basic service" channels and available for every cable subscriber, but not anymore - instead more commercial channels have been added.

The reason for this is obvious but I fear the end result is nothing worth celebrating. I think various international perspectives on world issues should be available to everyone, not just the wealthy.

  • 34.
  • At 06:17 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Ron - Ann Arbor wrote:

Internationally the BBCs reputation far exceeds its actual performance. As an almost daily listener via the internet and US public radio, I am often disapponted at the inherent White, Anglo-Saxon bias that is continually apparent. Countering this bias, which obviously exists in the extreme in US cable news, is the sole purpose of these new endeavors. Fortunately I already have access to Radio France via the internet (available in 20 languages) and it has become my primary source of international news. I welcome still more varied sources. Your essay might have mentioned that French language international television (not a news channel) has existed for years.

  • 35.
  • At 06:23 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Jan wrote:

This is certainly amazing news. The problem for the French is that they think that their country is leading
in Europe and/or the world, and to fulfill this "dream" it is necessary that we all know this, otherwise the
effect would be zero.

I think that I will not look into their news sites, as BBC and others provide
already more than enough.
Maybe it is fun when they have English in "allo-allo" style.

  • 36.
  • At 06:46 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

If "Dave" thinks the BBC is a load of rubbish then maybe he can let us all know of a better alternative. CNN International covers two or three stories adequately enough, ad nauseum, but to find out what's happening in the rest of the world I always turn to the BBC. Now that I've moved back to the States I'm glad one of the local PBS stations re-broadcasts a half-hour of BBC World every night.

  • 37.
  • At 06:49 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Joe Mwesigwa wrote:

there they go at it again politics even being brought to the news rooms, what is it with the politicians.

  • 38.
  • At 06:53 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Chris wrote:

Anything further to add Dave? or are you out taking your goldfish for a walk?

  • 39.
  • At 06:57 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • John wrote:

I am an American fan of the BBC. Fox, CNN and MSNBC do a reasonably good job of covering the US news, although they all tend to give far more time to sensationalist stories than they should. For news outside the US, the BBC provides a greater depth and breadth of coverage.

As for English becoming the international language, I think this is a good development. A common language helps us to understand one another. I doubt many people will forsake their native languages while learning English as a second tongue. But, the ability to have much or most of the world understand the very same broadcast (as opposed to various translations of it) will help avoid misunderstandings and give us all a grander sense of commonality.

  • 40.
  • At 07:00 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Chris ` wrote:

French at only 78 million speakers? Quoting Encarta?
Surely you could have done better than that!

  • 41.
  • At 07:01 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Paul wrote:

As mentioned in the article, but perhaps not expressed directly, the French and Arabic news stations are intended to provide what I can only describe as propaganda. Here in the US, where education is has been limited by the cold war, propaganda is a negative word but I mean it in the sense I learned it in the UK--media presentation to further the political ideas of the government. Basically, seeing the Arabic world view (or what they want us to see of it) will help us understand some of their concerns, as will F24 with France but it must be agreed that their agenda is not to report all news for the benefit of its audience but to report it with a pro-Arabic or pro-French spin, much in the same way that FoxNews reports everything with a pro-Republican spin here in the US.

  • 42.
  • At 07:09 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Diana wrote:

I am also an American (midwestern) and obtain much of my news from offshore sites. I enjoy WorldService, but look forward to hearing a French perspective.

A P.S., though: The BBC America TV station is terrible (and to think I paid extra fees for cable to get this channel!!!).

I think the BBC World Service is great, but it's gotten a little dumbed down in the recent past which is a shame, but it's still the one I most regularly watch.

What would be great is some provision for subtitling for deaf people and those shown on bigscreens in stations and noisy environments.

  • 44.
  • At 07:10 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • BK Coleman wrote:

Anyone else notice how the grousing over BBC's quality actually has very little to do with the content of the original post? Give me your take on France's entry into the crowded marketplace, or of the rise of English as a common language of sorts, or, hell, dismantle that argument and go on to praise a universal Chinese instead. But those who complain overmuch about BBC's quality obviously haven't seen the alternatives.

  • 45.
  • At 07:16 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • David Ayre wrote:

I am interested in the business models being used to fund global news networks, and (in particular) access to them. In my part of the world (New Zealand), BBC World is available free to air, but only in quiet space on our TV1 channel, roughly midnight to 6am local time; so I have to watch BBC World via a hard disk recorder. Deutsche Welle is free to air 24 hours a day via satellite. What determines which parts of the world get BBC World 24 hours free to air, and how does that compare with the decisions that Deutsche Welle take? And, of course, any other network? In short, what is influencing the channels (and therefore the perspectives) that we have available?

A refreshing story indeed, but I would like to comment on the distinction between CNN (and other US broadcasters). the BBC, and other international news services.

I find CNN very sensational, and I agree that the BBC frequently dumbs down their reporting. Compare these services to the likes of DW or CCTV and they seem more newsy, and less sensational. Both CCTV and DW also seem to provide more in depth analysis. I look forward to seeing the new French owned service.

  • 47.
  • At 07:42 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Stuart Payen wrote:

A bit misleading. The channel also aims to broadcast in Arabic and Spanish (and you don't point out that French is a common second language, particularly in Africa).

I'm very much looking forward to France 24. I do respect the BBC (with reservations and caution) but there's precious little else worth watching.

I think its better than French sticks to its own language they been doing that for centuries and people still love to learn french but france does not provide the means, facilities or even resources for this demand, thus english is growing every year.

what france should have done was invest in things like the internet and have new and better ideas than those services that are already online thats broadcasting in english...english is easier to learn than french from my point of view, and im glade that we can all speak english and we all understand one another.

  • 49.
  • At 07:52 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • anon wrote:

"It surely is a good thing that other areas of the world should be able to express their point of view all be it using the medium of English, perhaps this will address the imbalance of lies and propaganda coming from the ultra right in the current Bush administration in the U.S."

So by coming here to get away from "lies and propaganda coming from the ultra right", you are admitting it is to your left wing taste? Hmmmm

  • 50.
  • At 07:53 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Sherlock wrote:

Why is it that the BBC pays lip service to exposing problems in British society, while casting its probing light in dark places worldwide. Maybe it is because it will ruffle feathers and cut off future funding at home. In this sense, BBC is the most hypocritical media outlet.

  • 51.
  • At 08:05 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • sarah H wrote:

I live in New York and find myself checking BBC news often to get the earliest reports on stories that channels here may not pick up for several days - the recent murder of the Russian reporter comes to mind.

Sadly, the US media seems fixated on celebrities, sensational murders or minor political scandals. They pass on the big stories or only give one angle - their own. It's no wonder most Americans are ignorant about the rest of the world.

  • 52.
  • At 08:29 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Michael Munnik wrote:

It saddens me that, nearly four years on, Andrew Gilligan is still an excuse to beat up one of the finest broadcasters in the world. And Dave, that was on the radio, not the television.

Last detail notwithstanding, the problem facing BBC World, CNN and any other 24 hour TV news station is that outside of crisis events, these stations are cumbersome and ill-suited to deliver the news of the day. They repeat items and dwell on inane features because there's just not enough news that can be told well on TV (or that would serve the desires of the TV audience).

Radio is lithe and cheap and able to penetrate all corners of the globe with nary a camera crew in sight. As a medium, it can present a broader range of stories - ones about ideas that do not rely on colouful pictures to convey their meaning in an engaging way. That's why BBC World Service shines and BBC World, like every all-news channel, founders so frequently.

  • 53.
  • At 08:29 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Richard Neill wrote:

Of course the BBC has made a few mistakes, and doesn't always meet the goal of being perfectly fair and balanced. But it does an extremely good job and is usually impartial. Personally, I don't even own a TV, but I am very glad to have BBC radio (3,4, World Service in particular), and long may it continue. I wish the BBC could take over CNN and turn it into a proper news network ;-)

  • 54.
  • At 08:39 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Doug wrote:

Look forward to seeing the French channel, either in French or English,. Have to agree with those who find BBC World terrible - how can an organisation which can produce the World Service produce something so dreadful, not so much the individual programmes as the repition & self advertisement.

  • 55.
  • At 08:41 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Steve Allan wrote:

Mr. Porter,

Your research is not very good. France 24 will not be broadcast primarily in English. Had you done better research you would know that France 24 is actually two channels, one is completely French and is aimed to the worldwide francophone market, the other is multilingual. Although it will be predominantly English at first, Spanish and Arabic will be added in 2007.

  • 56.
  • At 08:43 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Steve Allan wrote:

Mr. Porter,

Your research is not very good. France 24 will not be broadcast primarily in English. Had you done better research you would know that France 24 is actually two channels, one is completely French and is aimed to the worldwide francophone market, the other is multilingual. Although it will be predominantly English at first, Spanish and Arabic will be added in 2007 and that channel is aimed for the anglophone-hispanophone-arabophone market. In that sense it resembles CNN en espanol.

  • 57.
  • At 09:39 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • James wrote:

After two years, it has become increasingly obvious that the BBC promotes the party line of whichever party is currently in power in the UK.

last time i checked there had been only one party in power over the last two years.

secondally, the BBC did a fair amount of following the labour leadership crisis/scandal/feud... I recall the Party Line being that it wasn't news.

The only thing that BBC World could do better is have a UK news bullitin... perhaps a 'podcast'/shorter version of the BBC1 news programmes - as long the sport is kept... especially cricket!

  • 58.
  • At 09:41 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • AJ wrote:

Those numbers are way off.

India has almost 1.1 billion people and I would say at least 300 million of them speak English as their definite second language (and several hundred million more speak English as a third or fourth language). Ever wonder why all the world's call centers are moving there!? Add to this the figures from the US, Canada, Great Britain, Australia and many many other countries where English is the official language...and you easily have over 2 billion people worldwide whose first or second language is English.

Anyway, the Iranians will never be able to challenge the diverse offerings of the BBC, CNN etc...The French will be more successful, especially if they add some hot native women newscasters with French accents, but speaking in English. That will be the only way to differentiate themselves significantly!

  • 59.
  • At 09:55 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • kmak wrote:

Though I think that BBC World is a far superior service to any news agency in the US (and the rest of the world), neither is there doubt that the BBC has been slipping over the years, nor that the BBC is aligned with the leading political party of the times. 'Dave' has been perceived as attacking a trusted name in news, but to say that the BBC is superior to US news is like comparing an airplane (BBC) to a bird (CNN) in a worldwide spacecraft competition. Neither is succeeding in pushing the limits.

The quality of news will not change unless people demand it to do so. Mr. Porter states that,
"Both BBC World and CNN exist because of the first reason. We're there because we think it's important to offer a high-quality service of international news to global audiences..." I cannot agree that they offer "high-quality" service, though the BBC may offer the highest quality service available. News agencies do not care about creating high quality news, they care about making money. With more competition, all news agencies must try harder to keep their viewers, but it is the viewers who must define how they are kept. If we demand higher quality service, they will have to give it to us. If we show them that we like pretty graphics and impressive sound bytes, CNN will remain the "most trusted name in news,” and the quality of service from all broadcasters will fall even further.

  • 60.
  • At 09:58 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • R K Bulmer wrote:

"[English is] becoming the international language of business"?

Shurely shome mishtake?

Since the incorporation of the East India Company, hasn't English been the international language of business?

  • 61.
  • At 10:27 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Paul wrote:

Whow! Only 350 million with english as their official first language? The US of A have just gone through the 300 million today, UK is 60 million, plus the Aussies and NZ don't forget the others ( Falklands etc.). However, put pettiness to one side, what's the point of the article?

  • 62.
  • At 10:41 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Chris wrote:

Indeed BBC World is a disappointment and these days I rarely watch it, prefering rather the German DW-TV which also broadcasts in English. As noted elsewhere I find it a shame that BBC World is so far removed from the radio BBC World Service. Come on Beeb, you have the content... the audience is there.

  • 63.
  • At 10:45 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • mike Buler wrote:

American and Canadian news services mainly provide parochial news and trivial gossip, with an occasional nod to global news , but in a slick professional package . The BBC TV service objectively provides global news , but in a technically amateur fashion.

  • 64.
  • At 11:00 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Carl Wilding wrote:

Other channels offer a biased opinion, but the BBC offers unbiassed independant opinion.
the BBC is the worlds foremost, finest, and best broadcaster in the world, No contest.

  • 65.
  • At 11:03 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Michael wrote:

As a Frenchman living in the US I would have to agree that BBCnews that we get over here is no doubt the best international coverage, not surprisingly so either.
Regardless, each news organization is tainted by its environement either directly or through the cultural filter of their contributors, so they are all biased, yet it also is why BBC is more international than say CNN. Having a French news channel in English doesn't surprise me but doesn't necessarily appeal to me either. It will be one more viewpoint, yet certainly no guaranty of more objectivity.
As for the French having a hard time deciding, I'd say it probably was pretty easy. They must realize that nowadays the most influence in the world is to be had in English, they wouldn't want to be left losing any influence now would they? Besides, the stronger they are, the more they can protect their language.

  • 66.
  • At 11:16 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Ed wrote:

Although I enjoy having BBC world when I go on holiday, it could do with many improvements.

Its worth noting that the BBC run 'BBC Prime' in other countries which offers BBC programming (not original shows, repeats etc). I personally have little interest in rolling news, and BBC Prime is a better option. BBC World should make more of their own programming, or show other BBC programming.

I think people here seem to have forgotten that, by definition, rolling news is repetitive.

  • 67.
  • At 11:29 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Rich wrote:

I don't think it's a minute point that the estimates quoted for numbers of English speakers quoted above seem so understated. The US alone is a population of 300 million, and if you add in just Britain (70 millions) and assume that at least 80% of both populations speak English as their primary language, then the English-first populations of Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and various islands must bring that to well over that 350 million.

  • 68.
  • At 11:37 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • lundy wrote:

Maybe, we should be watching CCTV from China.

  • 69.
  • At 11:44 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

Adam (14)
I don't have the degree of respect for BBC I once did. Not only do they intersperse their editorial perspective with their reporting of facts, sometimes blatantly and sometimes very subtly which discredits their journalistic integrity, they commit frequent technical gaffs and blunders which would be unacceptable at an American college campus radio station and I'm not talking about poor international telephone connections. I must also admit that for me the journalistic standards of The New York Times has deteriorated substantially in recent decades.

PBS produces a nightly news broadcast on weeknights which is clearly superior to BBC's. During its full hour, it presents leading proponents and experts on all sides of an issue and engages them in a discussion and debate of the different sides and points of view at the very highest level leaving it to the audience to make up its own mind. There is usually sufficient time to discuss all of the most salient points. If BBC has something like that, we don't see it or hear much of it in America. PBS also doesn't engage in gratuitous bashing of other governments the way BBC routinely does however coyly and indirectly.

  • 70.
  • At 12:23 AM on 18 Oct 2006,
  • greypolyglot wrote:

Having lived in Belgium for a quarter of a century and had plenty of opportunity to watch Belgian, French, Dutch, Luxemburgish, German, Italian and Spanish news coverage I have to say that the BBC comes across as pretty unbiased. And many of the interviews of politicians are very far from hewing to the party line.

My only complaint is that the BBC remains quite parochial and news from the rest of Europe gets less attention than news in the USA.

And so far as the news in the USA is concerned, well, the rest of the world rarely gets a mention - it might as well not exist.

  • 71.
  • At 12:37 AM on 18 Oct 2006,
  • Colleen Murrell wrote:

Anyone who doubts the integrity of BBC World, need only watch a half hour of Fox News to be cured of whingeing. I welcome France 24 and hope that it gets picked up by Foxtel over here in Australia so that I can watch it. BBC World is a fantastic service, despite existing on the smell of an oily rag, as they say in these here parts.

  • 72.
  • At 01:55 AM on 18 Oct 2006,
  • Declan wrote:

The figure of 78 million French speakers world-wide is absolutely ludicrous, even for native speakers, & frankly discredits this article IMHO. As of 2005 there are approximately 300 million people living in Francophone Africa, to say nothing of the millions of French speakers in Canada, the US (yes really, 1.6 million according to the 2000 US census), & the millions around the world who speak French as a second language. According to the French govt (cited in wikipedia) there are 270 million French speakers world-wide, of which 120 million are native or fluent. This seems a bit more realistic

  • 73.
  • At 05:45 AM on 18 Oct 2006,
  • heflwi wrote:

This article points at an interesting tension between the separate aims of accessing a broad audience base and projecting an effective national cultural image.

As a regular BBC World News viewer, I often lament the subtle americanisations in content, language, and style: disproportionate coverage of US news, frequent use of dollar values in first place even for non-dollar sums; using nouns as verbs; anchor chatting style. Wooing the North American and americanised viewer reflects the current market reality, but this (perhaps unconscious) aspect of it risks implying that British culture is silently subsumed into US culture.

France 24 takes the active and highly visible stance of largely abandoning the French language medium in order to project national identity to a wider audience through content. I look forward to it. But the quiet americanisation of BBC World is more insidious and potentially of more cultural damage precisely because it is undeclared and less visible. More to the point, it would seem largely unnecessary.

  • 74.
  • At 07:21 AM on 18 Oct 2006,
  • Geoff wrote:

Just a comment in response to those people critical of both BBC World and, alternatively, CNN -

Any 24-hour news service is, of necessity, rather repetitive. It's partly because (a) generating and filing that much new copy is difficult; and (b) the need to accommodate different time zones means that if you have a great program, you might want to re-run it several times. (For instance, CNN flogged its recent "Global Forum with President Clinton/Christiane Amanpour" to death). CNN International is just as bad, if not worse than BBC World in this respect.

For those Brits, above, who are worried about BBC World reflecting poorly on 'the great Beeb': don't, because it's almost universally a case of the opposite.

Everywhere I live (mainly various Asian countries), BBC World is most expats' news channel of choice (including Americans), on account of its higher quality news product, less parochial editorial policy, less repetition in non-news programming and much higher quality non-news programmes (CNN has nothing to match the quality of e.g. HardTalk and BBC's documentaries).

I also agree with the gentleman from Texas, who wrote that the BBC Website's breadth and depth of coverage is unmatched globally. (Perhaps it is because of the BBC's dominance in this respect that the most commonly uttered phrase on CNN TV is "and for more, you can log on to our website at Unfortunately, I can't read the BBC site at the moment because I'm living in mainland China.

And as a postscript: is anyone else annoyed by the apparent takeover of CNN International by bloody Australians?

CNN is becoming a safe haven for failed Aussie broadcasters from that country's abominable commercial networks.

Of the present CNN International anchors, Mallika Kapur alone is worthy of being a BBC anchor.

  • 75.
  • At 07:33 AM on 18 Oct 2006,
  • Bert wrote:

The amount of french speakers around the world is much higher than the mere 78 millions announced in this article. The estimate is around the 150 million mark. 62 millions in France, 4 millions in Belgium, 8 in Quebec, 2 in Switzerland..but then there are a lot of african countries who have french as their official language.

  • 76.
  • At 07:53 AM on 18 Oct 2006,
  • Patrick wrote:

Why use wikipedia to measure the number of English speakers and Encarta to measure the number of French speakers?

Encarta's number only adds numbers from France, Québec, and parts of Belgium and Switzerland. Happilly forgetting about just about half of Africa. French is the official language in 21 other countries in the world, and spoken as a second language in 51 countries.

If Wikipedia is a source to be trusted (and if the BBC cites both Wikipedia and Encarta as valid sources, where is the world going), there are 270 millions French speakers in the world, of which 120 are native and fluent, making it the 6th language.

  • 77.
  • At 08:25 AM on 18 Oct 2006,
  • John Williams wrote:

Dave at #4...

Why do people come on these boards just to post remarks which are counter-productive? It really gets tedious to hear people bashing the BBC for everything they try and do. Not many major news organisations would reveal so much about their inner workings at the BBC does via the 'The Editors'. And as for mentioning the distinctly anti-West Al-Jazeera or the anti-capitalist French news channels you are hardly comparing like for like. Why not commend CNN for it's 'International' reporting while you're at it?!

  • 78.
  • At 08:55 AM on 18 Oct 2006,
  • kenneth Noyau wrote:

Ihave always had the highest regard for the BBC, and during a tour of television stations in the USA (many years ago) I met several people who share this opinion. My training in UK, as an educational broadcaster, may indicate a bias in favour of the Beeb, but it would be naïve not to see - and expect - a lowering of standards brought about by constant political pressure and by the need to find other sources of financing (thanks Lady T.!)which expose the BBC to the same risks of pressure by big money as the other media. Let's not dismiss Chomsky and others too "easily.
I do not think that CNN or French Tv will ever rise to the level of the BBC, but, in this modern battle for the mind,let its editors remember that their integrity is our only safeguard against dishonesty, manipulation and disinformation. 'We cannot expect journalists to be heroes for their daily bread', a friend of mine once said. in the ongoing battle or in the imaginary -or wishful? -war between "civilizations", we have a great need for heroes.

  • 79.
  • At 09:19 AM on 18 Oct 2006,
  • Matthew wrote:

Everyone is entitled to thier opinion but personally I very much appreciate BBC World. I am a long-term UK ex-pat currently living in Luxembourg and the international news presented, with a perceptible but mild bias towards stories related to Britain, suits me perfectly. As someone who watches BBC World most evenings, I have the impression that the coverage is objective and the journalists really do strive to put the difficult questions to interviewees, without being offensive. The mix of programmes in the second half-hour of each hour is also good in my view with a whole range of different types of progamme such as Top Gear, Rough Science, Hard Talk, Click and World Business Report to name just a few. Time will tell whether the French channel will be a success - for me the main test will be whether they will be prepared, like BBC World, to sometimes take a line which is crticial of their own country's stance or even contrary to its interests. Their domestic news is particularly weak on that score, but I also feel that BBC World is much better in that regard than domestic BBC News, so perhaps the new French channel will be the same.

  • 80.
  • At 09:59 AM on 18 Oct 2006,
  • Mark E wrote:

Well I have to agree in part with Dave, the BBC CAN be great for news, however they seem at the moment to be trading more on their reputation then their product.

The "expose" of football transfers was worse then you would expect from a tabloid paper.

The BBC news reports are often opinions being presented as facts.

If the best defense that many have for the BBC is that it is better then Fox news then that is the equivalent of saying that The Sun is better then The Beano.

  • 81.
  • At 11:19 AM on 18 Oct 2006,
  • Geoff wrote:

Further to my earlier post - some comments on the issue of most widely-spoken language:

Many people who make claims about Mandarin (Putonghua)
being the most widely spoken language, reveal only their ignorance about China.

Putonghua is an artificial language - like Bahasa Indonesia. It represents a political attempt (by the early Republican administration, under Dr Sun Yat-sen) to nationalise and standardise Chinese language based on a particular northern dialect. The only true native speakers of Putonghua are some (but not all) natives of Beijing, Tianjin, Shandong, parts of Hebei and the Manchurian provinces.

Everywhere else, they speak dialects and if they speak Putonghua at all, they speak it as a second dialect, with an obvious accent from whichever linguistic region they're from. Shanghaihua, for instance, is a dialect with radically different pronunciations - and when the Shanghai Gang were running the country a few years back, you could hear leaders, including Jiang Zemin, speaking Putonghua with a heavy Shanghainese accent. And of course, in addition to dialects, you have significant numbers of people speaking entirely different languages - Guangdonghua (Cantonese), Fujianhua, Hakka, Tibetan, Mongolian and so on almost ad infinitum. Cantonese and Mandarin are no more similar than French and German.

It is noteworthy that Chinese people themselves differentiate between Zhongguohua ("Chinese"), Putonghua ("Mandarin") and Beijinghua (Beijing dialect).

As with India, the treatment of a country so large as to constitute, in many ways, a world in itself, as a monolith by many Western commentators is terribly ignorant of the reality on the ground. They look at China and say - oh, there are 1.3 billion Mandarin speakers - which is completely untrue.

Lots of very good and thoughtful comments here. If anyone would like to keep this dialogue going they can do so at

There is no blog on there yet, we run surveys instead. But it is a good way of feeding back comments about the channel to the people that actually run it.

Rufus Weston
Research Manager
BBC World

  • 83.
  • At 01:44 PM on 18 Oct 2006,
  • paul wrote:

I regard the BBC's web service as the best there is, and listen to plenty of its radio output. Its TV is not so attractive these days, but then who's is? Dumbed down, too much style with not enough content and the news bulletins are irritating because they are so swung by the editorial need to have "exciting" images to show.

The French language is beautiful and I love using it, so I hope the new departure will not weaken it - but it is for world consumption so I think they're right.

  • 84.
  • At 11:57 PM on 18 Oct 2006,
  • Sean Schwabenlander wrote:

I find it almost humourous to say that the internations news television market is "getting crowded." Maybe in the real world it is, but not here in the US. If you want to get international news, you can watch a 25 minute segment of BBC World Monday-Friday -- that's it!

Thankfully the BBC distributes it's BBC World channel online via Real Networks for a nominal fee, but I would still very much like to see BBC World (no, not BBC America) carried by more cable and satellite providers. I also hope that Al Jazeera International will someday be available in the States. Until then, I'll just have to live with watching international news on my laptop.

  • 85.
  • At 12:30 AM on 19 Oct 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

At the rate things are going, the future unifying language of Europe and the principal language of France will not be will be Arabic.

You mean it will be Farsi or Urdu.

Uncomfortable, and yes, even alarmist, yet you know it is the blunt truth that we are trying to avoid thinking and acting upon.

Well if you prefer not to see free women cloaked in Bhurkas, this is the time to get on side for our democracy.

Its idiots like Kerry, part of the *Jane Fonda* team when he was in the USA, that lost us the Vietnam contest through sowing disunity among the confused.

This book blurb . . .

Divided We Fall: How Disunity Leads to Defeat
In this excellent new book on the Vietnam War, James Rothrock demonstrates that disunity on the home front was the most significant and influential factor leading to the U.S. failure to defend South Vietnam from North Vietnamese aggression.

This disunity was incited and fueled by the antiwar movement, a *second front* which became a major weapon in Hanoi's arsenal.

The antiwar movement gave our enemies confidence and encouraged them to hold out in the face of battlefield defeats.

Divided We Fall reveals the full impact of the second front; how it influenced the conduct of the war and helped to determine its final outcome.

North America is fuzzy-minded and without a clear picture once again today.

Only difference is, if the Kerry / Jane Fonda gang confuse America a second time, we will lose every freedom we have today.

There is a Muqtada Al-Sadr wave in Iraq that must be stopped, [ 3 police stations blasted flat just this morning. Amara swarmed ], or else home-based bombings will be next, and this time we will end up wearing turbans, buhrkas and beards.

NO! Wake up America! Wake up Europe!

This can not be happening. The undecided talk is just a U.S. election ploy. The worst possible time for talking *waffle*.= TG

  • 87.
  • At 06:48 PM on 06 Jul 2007,
  • william wrote:

At last Iran aired its english TV channel called Press TV. Although Press TV has got some news channel's standards it still has a long way ahead.It has 26 coresspondents all around the world.The news coverage is acceptable but their presenters are amateur.Press TV has poor quality appearance and decoration.
Iran 's arabic news channel Alalam focusing on middle east seems more successful and has many shiite viwers.
Iran has a persian news channel called Irinn which tries to reflect iran's government views.Its acceptable appearance ows Vizrt which is a privilege among their channels.

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