Peter Horrocks: Will cuts diminish World Service's benefits?

Peter Horrocks, director BBC Global News, warned about the impact of cuts on the World Service as he delivered the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association lecture in London last night. Here his speech in full:

Lord Howell (of Guildford, Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), I thank you for your gracious introduction.

I would like to thank the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association for inviting me to deliver the 2010 lecture: ‘A World of Partners’.

I would like to start by taking this opportunity to congratulate Sally-Ann Wilson on becoming Secretary-General of the CBA. I look forward to continuing to build on the BBC’s close relationship with this vital link to the rest of the Commonwealth broadcasting family.

At the same time, I would like to pay my tribute to the work and dedication of the outgoing Secretary General Elizabeth Smith. She deserves every ounce of our respect, gratitude and affection for being the heartbeat of this organisation for so many years.

The first meeting of the CBA was held in London in 1945. It brought together representatives of a number of broadcasting organisations that had co-operated closely in reporting the Second World War.

It began with six members and is today an association of more than 100 broadcasting organisations in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, Australasia, the Pacific, North and South America – publicly funded organisations and commercial operations – all committed to public service broadcasting.

It’s been a great partnership. One through which we have forged lasting friendships that have helped us encourage and defend public service broadcasting; and strive to serve our audiences better.

The BBC has played a prominent role in the CBA since its foundation. And former BBC stalwarts, like Elizabeth, have given an enormous amount to the organisation.

But I believe the BBC can do even more to be a true partner, both within the CBA and directly with a range of partners around the world. And I wish to spell out why that is the case and how we can improve further on our practice of partnership.

The world is changing…

Do we need to change? And what is the BBC’s global role in this fast changing world?

Setting high journalistic standards? Yes.

A beacon of independent broadcasting? Yes.

Can we offer help and support to others? Yes.

But I believe we can continue to be the world’s leading broadcaster, without being over dominant, and by offering to be genuine partners, with our audiences and other media organisations.

Our audiences and the world they live in are changing, and the nature of our relationship with them has to change.

Our audiences want to be participants in telling the story, they want to connect and share their opinions about issues and events that concern them. They trust the BBC and, by involving them becoming open, they will trust us more.

We have started to tap into our audiences as a source of information and getting those angles of stories that we alone as journalists won’t be able to do, or at least won’t be able to do that fast.

Let me give you and an example, of how the BBC WS is building a partnership with its audiences:

In northern Nigeria, we are using mobile phones which we provided to villages. In each village there is one person who is known as ‘the keeper of the mobile’. This was a way we learnt about a government confrontation with a village about land rights.

We looked into that story, and used BBC journalistic rigour to cover it. We did what has made the BBC World Service strong: holding governments accountable – the ‘how’ is changing, and not so much the ‘what”.

The conversation we have with our audiences is no longer one way. It’s not even two ways. It’s a network, based on sharing, trust and word of mouth.

In today’s networked world we can no longer dictate the agenda.

For BBC Global News, partnerships have been a reality, and a creative stimulus, that has benefited both our partners and us for nearly two decades.

And our partners are increasingly the means by which our audiences interact with us. As shortwave audiences fall a smaller proportion of our audience listens directly to the BBC. Increasingly they hear us, or see us or view us online, via a partner.

We now supply news and other programmes to around 2,000 partner stations around the world.

In America – the world’s most sophisticated media market – we have a presence on over 500 FM radio stations.

Through our partners we reach 53 million listeners a week over the world.

In Africa we have built up a network of FM partner stations. We work to build capacity of partners, and link training to output.

The benefit is two fold. We bring them the global perspective and they bring the regional context.

We offer training to journalists, and know how, and through partners like Radio Free Africa Sahara in Tanzania, the BBC programmes reach wide audiences.

These are partnerships we have established over a long time. But sometimes partnerships are hatched more quickly. This next example took just four days.

When the devastating earthquake hit Haiti, the BBC WS was not broadcasting to Haiti. As soon as the scale of the devastation became clear, we pulled our resources together not only to cover the news and bring lifeline programming in French, Spanish and English, but to extend FM transmission and launch a Creole language service on air through those crucial early days.

In addition, close co-operation with Jamaica’s RJR Group – a fellow member of the CBA – we helped the Jamaican team fulfil a request from the Haitian government to help get some Haitian media back on air.

Also, we put Haitian local partner station Radio Lumiere in touch with civil engineers to declare their building safe enough for their broadcasters to return to.

A true testament to what we can achieve when we work as one. We even ‘partnered’with two Creole speaking journalists in Miami who became the programme’s presenters, and within a week of its broadcast the programme reunited a mother with her son.

The BBC worked closely with the Red Cross to provide humanitarian information to Haiti through the BBC World Service Trust.

The World Service Trust is the BBC’s international development charity. It does its work through partnerships with government departments for funding, NGOs and media organisations. Its experience in establishing partnerships is invaluable.

One part of the work of the BBC World Service Trust has been to support the reform of state broadcasters and encourage the development of politically independent, financially sustainable public service broadcasters.

Over the past five years the World Service Trust has embarked on ambitious reform and development programmes with public service broadcasters in Bosnia, Georgia and Serbia.

In 2005 we helped to build and run a southern Iraqi radio station with a strong public service remit – the station has now transferred fully to local ownership and is the most popular local radio station in the south of the country.

We’re also working closely with public broadcasters in Angola, Tanzania and Sierra Leone on a five-year programme called ‘A National Conversation: promoting accountability, transparency and participation through partnership with public broadcasters in Africa’.

Significant results have already been achieved: a neighbourhood in Angola now has light and electricity after 30 years, as a direct result of this programme.

In Nepal, The WS trust has developed Sajha Swal (Common Questions) a series of TV and radio political debates. And that is broadcast with a network of 114 community and commercial FM radio stations, local TV and BBC Nepali.

But if the BBC just develops partnerships through providing to others it will not be seizing the real two-way opportunity of partnership. To be true to that, the BBC needs to be taking content from its partners.

As an example, recently, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a highly regarded, non-profit organisation with more than 100 journalists in 50 different countries, came to the BBC World Service with a story about how the asbestos industry has targeted developing countries.

They had done a substantial amount of work on the story already. This was a complex, truly global story and we felt that by collaborating and combining journalistic effort, we would be able to offer more to our audiences and to new ones.

Our work, “Dangers in the Dust: Inside the Global Asbestos Trade” which went out in July this year, featured 21 stories that appeared on radio, online and TV, in newspapers and weekly magazines.

It’s important to emphasise that editorial collaborations can become complex and time consuming.

But both sides benefited hugely from a respectful dialogue and an assiduous approach to issues raised by the journalism: the story received widespread interest and coverage all over the world in hundreds of media outlets and sparked debate globally.

BBC Global News is talking to European and US international broadcasters to create effective partnerships on areas where we can share and collaborate more–in areas like audience research, distribution and promotion.

Indeed our role in the CBA is a good example of our partnership with other broadcasters. And we welcome ideas from partners, within the CBA, and more broadly for how we can co-operate more effectively.

A good development has been the establishment of the CBA News Exchange which offers its members material that they can share. There is more we can do.

The experience of the Commonwealth and its path to remain relevant in the 21st century is a useful reminder of how partnerships evolve. In promoting the Commonwealth’s fundamental values and interests, the Commonwealth now is looking to become a catalyst for economic and democratic development, and in turn benefit the UK.

Strong partnership needs to be based on mutual interest – for instance in content or economic needs. But it also needs to be based on shared values and this is an area where the BBC has a huge amount to contribute.

We know that the BBC’s values of accuracy, impartiality and an absolute commitment to independence play a crucial role in the programming we deliver directly to our audiences. But those values also help to set standards for our partners and the wider media industry in many countries in the world.

In Nairobi earlier this year I saw first hand an example of how the BBC can enable local media to be bold. The BBC Swahili and Africa services were examining the investigation into the post-election violence.

A witness to the violence was interviewed by the BBC and alleged that police had been threatening witnesses who were offering testimony to the international Criminal Court.

The story had received minimal coverage in local media. I happened to be attending the daily news conference of a major national news organisation. The fact that the BBC had carried the witness interview validated the story and gave the news organisation confidence to cover it.

Recent research by the independent consultancy Human Capital demonstrated clearly how the BBC creates these wider benefits. Human Capital spoke to media and political leaders in four countries and their responses showed clearly how the BBC promotes higher standards in local media.

For many of these opinion leaders, state broadcasters were seen as too often mouthpieces for government, while commercial news organisations were known for having partisan political or business interests. In those circumstances the BBC is seen as an indispensable reference point and example of the highest editorial principles.

I was reminded of this contrast when I read a piece by a young Ugandan journalist, (Matthew McMot) winner of BBC’s Kari Blackburn Bursary Scheme. Under the scheme young African journalists spend two months working and training with the BBC World Service in London.

Upon his return to Uganda, he wrote in a local newspaper: ‘I walked to work with a Kenyan, rode the lift with a Georgian, talked about football with a Zimbabwean, had lunch with a Djiboutian and was supervised by a Sierra Leonean. Yes, this was another day at the office and no, I do not work for the UN. This was the BBC World Service at Bush House in London…

But as impressive, if not more, was the BBC’s ‘a high level of balanced reporting’as he put it.

‘Interestingly though, he observed, the BBC is funded by government… On the other hand as much as media houses in Uganda would not like to admit it, a number of them have a level of partiality in favour of ‘he who pays the piper.”

The scheme is only one part of BBC’s role in training journalists and promoting high editorial standards.

Last year, the BBC ran 30 training events for partner stations in 19 countries in Africa involving 270 broadcast professionals. The courses are unique as most of them generate material for broadcast on the BBC too.

An important role is played by the BBC College of Journalisms. It offers teaching on every aspect of BBC journalism and the values upon which that is based: truth, impartiality, independence, the public interest and accountability to audiences. Its website is accessible to journalists throughout the world, who use it as a resource for learning the values they aspire to.

The College of Journalism main English website has 100 thousand unique users per month. 60 thousands of them are from outside UK.

The website also includes 30 language micro sites promoting best practice in journalism.

Shortly after the sites were launched, the College received many letters from all over the world. One of them was from a journalist from Burkina Faso, who wrote: ‘This is the best journalism training. Could you open the College here?’

The micro site in Russian, for instance, has achieved around 9,000 hits in the past month. The team has visited universities across Russia, and has provided master classes for the journalism students.

Together with Livejournal – the largest blogging platform in Russia – BBC Russian now have a community called BBC Student Club, for student journalists who want to know more about the BBC and its editorial values, and offer story ideas, which in turn would help them develop their skills as future journalists.

And the way that the BBC helps improve local media standards in turn feeds into improved political accountability which then helps act against corruption.

The work of the distinguished Oxford economist Professor Paul Collier has highlighted the way that a properly functioning media sector can enhance a proper contract between people and politicians.

That creates an environment in which the exploitation of natural resources of the expropriation of international aid becomes less likely. This can make the use of international aid, such as the commitment made by the UK, much more effective.

The Human Capital research also demonstrated the respect for the UK that is generated by this country’s commitment to high quality international broadcasting.

79% of respondents believed that the BBC helps the people from different cultures and countries to understand each other better.

Four in five BBC users in four sampled markets say the BBC makes them think more positively of the UK – more than say the same about the English Premier League or UK foreign aid.

And in these times of economic hardship it’s gratifying to know that the influence the BBC generates has a direct influence on Britain’s ability to do business in the global marketplace.

The independent polling company GlobeScan recently surveyed individuals in the US, India, UAE, Turkey and Nigeria who have an influence over international business decisions.

They found that the BBC is a frequent source of news and information for business influencers in these countries. It found that BBC usage drives positive perceptions of GB commercial influence and the attractiveness of GB as a business partner.

Globescan asked these business leaders if Britain was an attractive business partner. Of those who regularly use BBC News 65% said yes, but only 38% of those who don’t use the BBC find Britain commercially attractive.

The spending review is nearly upon us. The BBC has been articulating to government the benefits that we help to create for Britain.

We are making these arguments at a time when the importance of communications, as a component of public diplomacy and ‘soft power’, has risen commensurately.

Governments around the world have recognised this:

China has announced a $7bn expansion programme for its overseas media operations. Including an increase in foreign bureaux for its global English news channel CCTV from 19 to 56 over the next three years.

Russia Today’s budget was $60m in its first year.

The budget of Al Jazeera English, supported by the emir of Qatar, is estimated to be more than $100m.

Iran spends more on Press TV, its international news channel, than the BBC does on Persian TV (> $25m pa).

BBC World Service received £272 million in funding from the Foreign Office through Grant-in-Aid last year.

Over the last twenty years, the BBC has invested in new services which have maintained its reach and impact as its audiences migrate from short wave radio to other platforms.

But it now faces greater technological and competitive challenges than ever before. Looking forward, it needs to be able to deliver high-impact news over whatever medium its target audiences are using:

TV has established itself as the main platform for news consumption in many parts of the world: 90% plus penetration in Pakistan’s cities; more than 80% of Brazil’s households have TV; more than 60% in Kenya’s urban areas.

The internet is currently used by 1.5bn people around the world – this is set to rise by 50% in the next five years. More people have mobile phones than have toothbrushes – more than 4.5bn.

As the need for innovation intensifies and resources become more constrained, the BBC must prioritise. It must focus on places where our presence matters most, now and in the future – that is, countries of greatest geopolitical importance and audience need.

This does not mean we should be spared the pain that many others in this country are going through. But it does mean that careful thought must be given before Britain diminishes its voice in the global conversation. And here are some key principles for determining the strength of our future voice:

‘It is very important that the BBC World Service is able to maintain its presence around the world.”

‘It’s very important that the World Service maintains its global reach.’

‘The BBC World Service will remain a fundamental importance to this country’s presence in the world.”

You would expect the Director of BBC Global News to say those words. But these are the words of the current Foreign Secretary William Hague – made in the last few months.

I could find equally supportive words from our chair – Lord Howell.

A consistent feature of BBC World Service’s history has been the support of Parliamentarians and UK Governments of all parts of the political spectrum.

Recent independent research amongst nearly 197 MPs in the new Parliament showed that 90% of MPs surveyed had a favourable or very favourable view of the World Service, higher than any other national institution.

And the overall score for the World Service, the so-called mean favourability, was significantly higher than any other institution or brand surveyed including Waitrose, M&S, the RSPB and even the British Beer and Pub Association.

The MPs and the government who continue to repay us with such high levels of respect are now taking decisions that balance significant belt-tightening and pain for their constituents alongside the costs of Britain’s representation abroad.

It is a huge challenge for everyone involved.

And we have been asking ourselves difficult questions: How to make efficiencies while investing in our future and continuing to serve our audiences?

We’ve been asked that question before. We’ve already implemented a series of efficiency plans that have delivered £74 million of ‘cashable savings’since 1998.

Over the same period, we managed to increase our audiences by almost a third – that’s 43 million people a week.

The National Audit Office has placed BBC World Service in a minority of public bodies as having a ‘good’ track record on efficiencies.

Each time we’ve had to ask the same questions.

Will the cuts diminish the benefits BBC World Service brings to Britain either in diplomacy and engagement in its broadest sense in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, India, and the Middle East?

Will the cuts diminish our services to a level where our presence is merely symbolic or lacking quality that damages our standing?

Will disinvestment in international broadcasting – at a time when France, America, Iran, China and others are investing heavily – weaken the UK’s projection of its values just as the world becomes smaller?

Will BBC World Service have the wherewithal to respond to a crisis with lifeline services – as we’ve done this year in the Haiti earthquake or Pakistan floods?

Will the cuts diminish BBC World Service’s strong engagement with foreign business decision makers and affect the UK’s ability to take advantage of any future economic upturn?

These and many other questions are on my mind as we enter the final strait of our vigorous discussion about the future funding of the BBC World Service.

I can only hope that the answers are positive and that we can continue to deliver for the UK and continue to be the world’s leading broadcaster, a true partner for promoting independent media.

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