BUSHLOG photo archive World Service Newsroom 25
From BBC World Service booklet "Voice of the World", published in 1988. Reformatted to fit this webpage.

BBC World Service Newsroom, Room 440 SE, Bush House. Among those pictured: Stewart Forsythe, Geoff Lane, Greg Kipling, Jane Howard, Linda Crammond (partly obscured), Chris Oppenheim, Norman Hartley, Alan Mackim.

A FOREIGN correspondent has one of the most important jobs in the BBC. News is the cornerstone of the BBC World Service output and it is the correspondent's job to get it back. The job is frequently exciting, not infrequently tedious -- and sometimes dangerous.

Bob Jobbins became the head of the Arabic Service early in 1988 after 12 years as one of the BBC's on-the-spot journalists who cover the globe. For eight years he was in Egypt and South East Asia.

No BBC correspondent has ever been killed (a cameraman died when a news team strayed into a Cyprus minefield some years ago) and Bob Jobbins says he was never in a situation where he felt his last moment had come. Some of his colleagues have had closer brushes. One, detained in the Lebanon, was found to have an Israeli pass in his wallet and thought he was going to be executed. Another was shot in the hand.

'Where war or civil war breaks out, danger escalates sharply,' Bob Jobbins says. 'That's when you don't stick your head above the parapet - a dead correspondent is no good to anyone. You're paid to get information, not to take unnecessary risks.Bob Jobbins, Head of BBC Arabic Radio

'But any foreign correspondent must expect to be taken into custody, to be expelled, intimidated, moved on or even beaten up. That's a fact of life.' In November 1987, the BBC's freelance in Nairobi suffered spinal damage when a Kenyan policeman broke a club across her back.

When one considers the dangers, one might well wonder why correspondents be come correspondents. Even if he is now in a desk job, Bob Jobbins is in no doubt why. 'If you're going to be a foreign correspondent, the best of all is being a Bush House foreign correspondent,' he says. 'There is an insatiable demand for news in the World Service and it's for an audience that wants serious, informed analysis. It's fantastic - I'd do it all again.'

A million words a day flood into the World Service news room at Bush House - from correspondents, freelances, news agencies and the BBC's own monitoring service which listens to the broadcasts of other countries. It is the newsroom's task to select the stories, check the facts and prepare the 200 news programmes transmitted round the clock.

At almost any time of the day or night, there are news bulletins going out in one or other of the 37 different language services - sometimes as many as six at once.

The newsroom never closes. Over 120 journalists, working a three-shift system, man it 24 hours. And, says its Editor, David Spaull, it is the best newsroom in the world. 'It's a bold claim, but I reckon that's the truth,' he says. 'World wide we don't claim to be the only prime source of believable news - Radio Australia and the Swiss, for example, do a good job - but few attempt the comprehensive coverage of the world that we do.

'We face tough competition in some quarters - the Arabic Service, for instance, is having to compete with a very modern and slick outfit in Radio Monte Carlo in the Middle East and its counterpart, Medi-I, in North Africa-and some of our foreign competitors have bigger audiences here and there. To some extent, certain people have caught up. But we haven't been overtaken.'

Morning Controllers' meeting, Bush HouseThere are many reasons why David Spaull's newsroom maintains its position. Among them are the back-up it enjoys. It can draw on the resources of the entire BBC. And it has its own 'in-house' expertise - if there is any doubt about the significance of a particular event, say a ministerial reshuffle in an East European country - it can get the answer from the language section concerned, which is staffed by nationals of that country and Britons expert in its affairs.
Altogether, the BBC has 30 or so foreign correspondents. Some of them work directly for television, some for domestic radio and some for the World Service, but all of them can be called upon by the three output areas and, indeed, all the foreign correspondents frequently contribute to Bush House's 'Radio Newsreel'. Additionally, any material transmitted by the BBC at home - an interview with an international statesman, for example - can be taken up by the World Service.

Layout of BBC World Service newsroomAll of this gives the BBC's overseas news broadcasts an authority and scope beyond any comparable organisation.

A story which illustrates the point concerns a BBC correspondent who was in Baghdad during a particularly critical phase of the Gulf War.

The Iraqi government called a news conference to make an important announcement about the progress of the fighting and international journalists assembled by the score. Suddenly they rose en masse and left the room, leaving officials and the BBC man baffled. He joined the exodus and saw the reason.

A forest of transistor aerials had gone up and the Greenwich time signal was pipping from dozens of pocket radios. The ears of the world's press were attuned to the BBC's World Service in English bulletin, which was leading with the Gulf War. 'It's the only way we can be sure of what's going on,' said the Washington Post correspondent.

The conference resumed and the BBC man asked an Iraqi official why he had not joined the group outside. 'Why should I listen?' he asked. 'That was in English. I find out from the BBC in Arabic!'

Later, the same correspondent went to Amman. He had arranged an interview with a senior minister on the day the Israeli cabinet was meeting to decide important moves on the West Bank. Jokingly, he remarked that the minister would doubtlessly have arranged for the meeting to be bugged. 'Why should we do that?' came the reply. 'We'll find out what happened from your "Radio Newsreel!"

BBC World Service newsroom,  4th Floor, Bush Houserld Service Newsroom. Norman Hartley Alan Mackim Linda Crammond Jo Cassidy It is not easy living up to a reputation like that and the newsroom has just gone through a critical self-examination because, as David Spaull explains, 'we'd grown over the years to meet the necessities as they came along, we'd added bits to the operation in all directions. We needed to stand back and have a good look to see how we could do things better.'

It took a year or more to identify the problems, come up with the solutions, then physically to reorganise the newsroom - an awkward task, because it could not shut down as the alterations were carried out. In April 1988, in its new guise, the newsroom went to work with the central writing desk - where all bulletins are prepared in English - strengthened, and a system implemented of keeping staff on the same regional desks for three months or more at a time.

'Before,' says David Spaull, 'they were tending to bounce about, on the South European desk one day, on the Far Eastern desk the next. We had no continuity.'

The human element is being brought back into the operation, too, with a recognition that more personal contact between the newsroom and the language staffs is needed. 'That personal contact had gradually diminished since the introduction of our electronic news distribution system 10 years ago,' says David Spaull.

David Spaull, Editor, BBC World Service News'Before EDS, people from the various sections were always coming into the newsroom. With electronic distribution, all information started to be called up on screens instead of being on bits of paper, so there wasn't the necessity. And, anyway, as we were always moving staff around the newsroom there wasn't the chance to build up personal contacts.

'The problem with technology is its impersonality. It's another problem we're determined to overcome.'

Technology is essential to cope with the ever-increasing demands - the newsroom is now not only producing 17 nine-minute bulletins of world news for the World Service in English, shorter world news summaries, five-minute news bulletins about Britain, four 15-minute editions of 'Radio Newsreel' and three 30-minute editions of the composite news programme 'Newsdesk', but it has started to put out a five-minute bulletin, preferred by some of the many radio stations around the world which re broadcast them live.

As the newsroom gears up to face the 1990s, Mark Dodd, the Controller of Overseas Services, says: 'Towards the end of the 1950s, I remember being in a group that was discussing the future and we predicted that in five years, or certainly 10, radio and TV stations in Africa and Asia would be of such a high standard that all we would be providing from London would be some cultural programmes for use on their air.

'That hasn't happened. Demand for our news, just as it is for our current affairs, is immeasurably greater. I see no reason for that to end, provided we keep up our standards.'



Geoff Lane Stewart Forsyth Linda Crammond Greg Kipling Prabha Jane Howard Chris Opperman Norman Hartley Sandy Brown Alan Mackim Maeve Nolan Benny Ammar Jim Edwards Sam Younger Hermann Schroeder