BUSHLOG photo archive World Service general 2
From "Voice for the World" booklet, published by BBC World Service, 1988. Reformatted to fit this web page.

British national newspapers love to carry exclusive stories - and to boast about them. If BBC Monitoring were a national newspaper, the rest of Fleet Street would be in a constant state of envy.

Whether it is Mr Gorbachev appealing for calm in the Armenian disturbances, the shooting down of an Afghan airline by Mujahedin rebels, a coup in Burundi, or the release of an Ulster nurse by Sudanese guerrillas, it is the monitoring service which broke the news to the world.

The examples are random and relate only to the recent past. BBC Monitoring has quietly sustained that kind of record since its inception just before World War Two.

It has many milestones in its history, announcing the news that is flashed around the world: Hitler's death in 1945; Nasser's nationalisation of the Suez Canal and the Hungarian uprising in 1956; the end of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962; the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968; the declaration of martial law in Poland 13 years later.

The Listening Room at the BBC Monitoring Service, CavershamSet up at the government's request to listen to the output of the world's radio stations, BBC Monitoring is based at Caversham Park in the Berkshire countryside, as it has been since 1943. Its receiving aerials and satellite dishes are sited four miles away at Crowsley Park.

In 1947, the service and its American equivalent, the Foreign Broadcasting Information Service, reached a formal agreement for the complete exchange of monitored material. Effectively, the BBC and the Americans divide the world between them, the BBC concentrating on Europe, the Middle East and Africa, with a unit in Kenya.

At its wartime peak, BBC Monitoring needed 1,000 people, Today it has half that number, which includes a substantial number of multilingual monitors who can switch from language to language as the need arises.

The service's workload is staggering. Monitors, operating shifts around the clock, listen to some 200 hours of broadcasting a day in about 35 languages from some 50 countries. Another 300 hours of monitoring is provided daily by about 25 news agencies. Altogether, with the American input, news and information from about 130 countries is handled.

It all adds up to 3/4-miIlion words, which have to be sifted by editorial staff who produce
a 24-hour newsfile and a printed summary of world broadcasts.

The daily newsfile of up to 12,000 words, is teleprinted to consumers in the BBC, other news organisations and government departments. When martial law was declared in Poland in 1981; 16 international news agencies and newspapers and radio stations in Europe, Asia and the USA subscribed to the Polish file. Other 'best-sellers' have been broadcasts from Argentina during the Falklands War, Afghanistan since Soviet intervention and Iran, particularly during the US hostage crisis.

The summary of world broadcasts - based on the same information as the newsfile but in greater detail - runs to 100,000 words a day. It is published six days a week in four parts covering the USSR; East Europe; the Far East; and the Middle East, Africa and Latin America

Eric Bowman, General Manager, BBC MonitoringThousands of copies are printed and posted daily or dispatched electronically to subscribers all over the world including Nexis, the world's biggest database in Dayton, Ohio.

To meet the constant increase in broadcasting output, a £16 million five-year modernisation plan began in 1985, underwritten by the government. It included a major building programme, extensive engineering improvements at Crowsley Park, and the computerisation of the service.

Two of four 11-metre satellite dishes agreed under the plan have been installed. These are steerable and are powerful enough to access signals from satellite television transmissions.

'The trend is towards TV as the prime source of information,' says Eric Bowman, the General Manager of BBC Monitoring. 'We see about 40 different channels, but at the moment we're only watching Soviet and Libyan TV on a regular basis. We won't have our full TV set-up until early

That is when the main-frame computer, linked to an electronic storage and distribution system with 180 visual display units, is expected to come into service. 'It will simplify transmission and editing and speed things up,' says Eric Bowman. 'In the meantime it's people and typewriters as usual.'