YEAR OF CHANGES - INCLUDING OUR NAME
BBC World Service
THE LAST YEAR has been a good one for all of us who broadcast to
the world from London.
We are now broadcasting more hours than at any time since the 1950s
- 767-1/2 a week by the beginning of 1989. We are starting to reap
the benefits of the strong new transmitters in Hong Kong which are
relaying programmes to China and Japan, and we shall soon start
to hear the results of another new relay station in the Seychelles,
broadcasting to East Africa. We were nominated for the Nobel Peace
Prize, by an all-party group of British MPs; and we made history
when the Prime Minister, Mrs Margaret Thatcher, took part in a live
phone-in to the USSR, answering questions direct from Soviet citizens
with the aid of simultaneous translation.
The last year has also seen a steady continuation of the process
of editorial change. In April, the newsroom, arguably the most important
news room in the world, was restructured to provide stronger area
specialisation, more sharply focused journalism and a more effective
provision of news stories to the foreign language services. By the
end of the year, the supply of centrally written analytical reports
on the background to events in the news will also have been re-shaped
to coordinate better with news correspondents' despatches.
And World Service Renewal - the result of an 18-month process of
discussion, review and restructuring of the English-language programmes
and the programme schedule - will have been completed; detailed
Programme Evaluation has examined the work of nine of the foreign
language services - Hausa, Polish, Brazilian, Turkish, Hindi, Finnish,
German, Indonesian and Swahili - yielding important recommendations
for programme changes; and the Russian and Polish services have
reorganised their current affairs output in response to the ending
Bush House is also in the process of a strenuous and radical period
of reorganisation of the way it controls its resources. We have
now operated our 'priority-based' budget system for the second year,
releasing in the process valuable funds for programme improvements.
We are looking at our entire method of control of capital expenditure.
We have amalgamated the studio managers department with the day-to-day
engineering and technical operations into a more rational structure.
We have under taken a root and branch survey of the way we use scarce
studios and we have provided equipment to make programmes more flexibly.
Led by outside management consultants, we are carrying out regular
value-for-money audits of all our activities.
As a result of these and other changes which are in the pipeline,
it is perhaps fitting that we have decided to change our name. For
years the title 'BBC External Services' sat in a clumsy, uncomfortable
way on our shoulders. It was used, if at all, mainly by ourselves.
Almost everyone else, including colleagues elsewhere in the BBC,
tended to call us 'BBC World Service'. So we have decided to adopt
that title. It is familiar, it is universal and it is recognised.
It is a good title. If someone had invented it for us we would have
All this activity is designed to make us better at the job of achieving
our objectives - that of broadcasting in the national interest';
of making 'programmes that are of high professional standard, relevance
and interest, to attract and retain audiences'; and, above all,
to provide a 'credible, unbiased, reliable, accurate, balanced and
independent service of news covering international and national
More broadly, we operate to a set of four unofficial rubrics which
represent a practical distillation of years of Bush House experience
in the field of international broadcasting. First, we broadcast
in foreign languages as well as in English - the approach is the
same, only the language of communication different. Second, we broadcast
to masses as well as to elites. Third, we broadcast to open societies
as well as to closed societies, to friends as well as to foes: it
is not only closed societies who are short of information about
the world they live in. Fourth, we believe language services cannot
and should not be chopped and changed, or turned on or off like
a tap; credibility demands constancy of supply.
From time to time, one or other of these principles is called into
question. If any one of them were to be seriously undermined, then
we would not be the broadcasters that we are said to be by our audience.
In the year ahead, we intend to make the name and reputation of
the World Service better known and its services more widely used.
We intend to develop audiences in China. We intend to pick up ground
lost to our competitors in East and Central Africa. And we intend
to continue the process of review of all our editorial and managerial
The BBC World Service is not the broadcaster with the greatest
number of hours on the air, or with the largest budget, or with
the most numerous or most powerful sets of transmitters. But we
are the broadcaster with the most listeners, the broadcaster with
the reputation for truth - if it comes from London, the news is
believed. Who can ask for more than that.