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A global commodity

Jon Williams Jon Williams | 11:32 UK time, Tuesday, 23 October 2007

A new report by the International Broadcasting Trust suggests the quality of British TV coverage of the wider world has dipped significantly over the last past two years. Its conclusion is that TV needs to raise its game. The criticism is less about daily news programmes, but more focused on factual programmes. Indeed, the report says news programmes have demonstrated imagination and an appetite for innovation – it warns “other genres – especially documentary and drama – need to be bolder and more ambitious, and seek out new ways of telling international stories”.

Yesterday – as the report was being published in London – BBC News was on both sides of the Turkish/Iraqi border reporting on the tension between Ankara and the PKK – the only UK broadcaster to have both perspectives.

We were in Beijing reporting on the selection of the Politburo and the anointing of the man likely to be China’s next president. And two years after the IBT’s last report criticised the coverage of the developing world, former Africa correspondent Fergal Keane reported on the $5m “good governance” prize awarded to the former president of Mozambique Joaquim Chissano – providing a different perspective on a continent where much of the reporting is characterised by despair and a lack of hope.

News is now a global commodity – the traditional distinction between “domestic” and “international” news is probably less than at any time in the past. The report correctly identifies the globalisation of information – the connections between the tribal areas of Pakistan and the radical Islam, the rise of China driving up costs in the world economy, the impact of human behaviour on climate change. Only by understanding what’s happening in another part of the planet, can you really make sense of what’s going on round the corner.

The BBC has a specific remit in the new Royal Charter to “bring the world to the UK” - the report recommends a more “joined-up” approach to our international coverage using the resources of the World Service and BBC World to help inform the UK audience, and build on existing links between UK communities and the wider world via its Nations and Regions output. We’re already doing some of this. Audiences with digital TV in the UK can already see BBC World at 7pm on BBC Four, and the World Service has plans to improve its multi-media operations in languages relevant to ethnic communities in the UK.

The IBT report is welcome – but read beyond the headlines. International news has a vital place in understanding what’s going on, not just in the UK but around the world.

Comments

  • 1.
  • At 09:36 AM on 24 Oct 2007,
  • Mrs E M Kent wrote:

I really welcome the screening of BBC World Service at 7 pm on BBC4. When we are abroad, the BBC World Service at any time of day or night provides a link with UK News and news from the rest of the World. I have always found the BBC to be clear, authoritative, broad in scope and reasonably balanced.

Having gone through a rather frivolous age, from which I believe we are finally beginning to emerge, the BBC has remained a bastion of quality and (on the whole),integrity.

  • 2.
  • At 07:12 PM on 24 Oct 2007,
  • Heather wrote:

A little more news from our European neighbours wouldn't come amiss. For one thing, I think it would help us feel a bit more a part of the European Union, rather than a mostly disinterested bystander, pointing at the funny foreigners and their strange customs.

We do seem to get a preponderance of news from the US - could it be because it doesn't need translation? I really think it's time we began to look to our allies to the east, instead of over the Atlantic and to the west.

  • 3.
  • At 10:56 AM on 25 Oct 2007,
  • John, Devon wrote:

This is all very well and to be applauded but the editors of BBC TV news programmes are still shamefully parochial in their choices of news items and running order - the old "small earthquake in Chile, only 10,000 dead" syndrome is still very much in evidence.

Witness the shameless overconcentration on the Madeleine McCann story and this week the tragedy of the four adults drowned trying to save children in Portugal.

Yes these were news stories as well as tragedies for the families and friends, and deserved reporting, but their treatment was way over the top. When millions are under blockade in Gaza; civil war is raging across parts of Africa; and spending on opium by western drug consumers outstrips investment in Afghan reconstruction, they pale into insignificance.

I'm afraid that, although this sounds calous, footage of fires in California and stories about English children will always trump important world events in editorial decisions about what counts as "news" as long as the BBC and other TV companies prize audience share over communication of what's happening in the world.

  • 4.
  • At 12:49 PM on 25 Oct 2007,
  • roberet ronson wrote:

If the BBC online standards are anything to go by then I would have to agree that tv on the BEEB is rubbish.

Server down, server error, server unavailable. Why don't you use apache? It's free and reliable.

To Robert Ronson:

Er, don't want to point out the obvious, but the Beeb does use Apache.

But enough of the technobabble- personally I'm always impressed by the reliability of the BBC site, I'm sure I'm not alone in it being the first one I check when I want to see if my connection is working properly!

  • 6.
  • At 06:37 PM on 26 Oct 2007,
  • joseph wrote:

Sorry to also query Robert's perception on the realiabilty of the BBC on-line, however I must applaud the BBC for it's world leading news website.

It actually amazes me that apart from extremely rare server issues, the BBC has managed to keep the site so stable.

I would imagine that if Robert has experienced so many server issues, his own internet provider is the most likely culprit.

Let's hope that none of the projected staffing reductions impacts this site, it cost so little money to operate compared to the costs of having of the new Gaelic TV channel, just think of the numbers: 1m+ hits a day on the BBC web-site and a maximum Gaelic speaking TV audience of 70,000, even that figure requires that every Gaelic speaker in the world is watching!.

A good balance between international news and home news will go a long way in silencing the critics. Listeners from all over the world depend on the BBC for impartial reporting, not censored or twisted information. So the BBC seves as a vital global communication channel, broadcasting as well as television, for millions of listeners and viewers who would like the unadulterated truth which is balanced and thought-provoking at the sa&me time. The BBC is second to none in this regard. It is imperative that this channel is kept wide open so that millions of listeners and viewers are not kept in the dark in any way. The BBC should not exercise cost-cutting measures where the international audience is craving for qualty reporting and information. Domestic listeners are also looking for up-lifting programmes where wholesome entertainment, educational and educative material are not compromised at all. Stay inventive BBC and your audience ratings will never dip.

  • 8.
  • At 11:50 AM on 07 Nov 2007,
  • Jon Anderson wrote:

Jon, you say that the BBC has a specific remit in the new Royal Charter to “bring the world to the UK”.

Most of us were under the impression that you were trying to take the BBC to the world, at our expense.

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