Obituary: Alan Macdonald

ALAN MACDONALD was one of the pioneers of BBC global television news. He was a tireless champion of BBC World, the BBC's international 24-hour news and information channel.

Today, BBC World is watched in nearly 60 million homes in 187 countries, and CNN's supremacy has been challenged. Macdonald held a passionate belief that it was the BBC's duty to create a television news channel to match the excellence of BBC World Service radio. In 1986, he left his job as political correspondent at the World Service to take the first tentative steps.

In those early pioneering days, when CNN ruled in the global news village, Macdonald and his colleagues found much opposition, and innumerable obstacles. Many BBC executives did not share his enthusiasm for the venture. Funding was a fraught subject as neither the licence fee nor the World Service grant-in-aid was available. The commercial route was taken, and the BBC's global television news service was developed by the commercial division of the BBC. There were concerns too over standards - how could a commercially funded news channel maintain BBC standards?

Alan Macdonald was at the forefront of the launch in 1991 and subsequent development of BBC World Service Television (now BBC World), the BBC's first international satellite television channel. He became Head of Business Development and Regional Director, South Asia and the Middle East, and established partnerships and distribution arrangements as the channel spread throughout the world. Now, there is scarcely a continent or country where the BBC World signal is not available.

Macdonald's background in the world's most respected radio service was useful in his new role. But he knew only too well that, no matter however strong the brand, tougher rules apply in the commercial market for news: markets do not suddenly appear when satellite signals are beamed; each territory is fought for, against both established and growing competition; and each territory won must cover its costs. If the BBC can succeed with BBC World today, it will be because of the early work done by people like Macdonald.

Those who watched him at work in India, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Middle East and elsewhere, saw him combine an understanding of the commercial realities with an admirable personal code. He believed in establishing long-standing relationships based on trust, and many of his business partners became friends.

Alan Macdonald cut a distinctive figure among the younger media men of today - tall (he towered above most people), old-fashioned in manner and mode, a little eccentric (he was one of the few BBC executives who rode a motor-bike), imaginative and amusing.

He was born in 1945 and educated at Whitgift School, Croydon. He went on to read Chinese, Economics and Sociology at Leeds University, after spending a year as a teacher in Malaysia working with the British aid organisation Voluntary Service Overseas. From 1966 he worked as a regional newspaper reporter before joining BBC World Service as an international journalist.

He joined External Services News, as it was then, in March 1972 and held a number of positions - notably duty editor, specialist correspondent, assistant intake editor and Newsroom assistant editor. He travelled to many parts of the world as a foreign correspondent, and worked in London as the BBC World Service political correspondent during the early years of the Thatcher government.

Even serious illness (he was diagnosed with a brain tumour a year ago) didn't dampen his spirit nor stop him. It was characteristic of Macdonald that he turned aside all advice to stay away from work. He believed he had a personal duty to the BBC, and he did his duty until the end of his life.

Macdonald was an active supporter of the Downs Syndrome Association and played a major part in the early 1980s campaign to curb the use of the term "mongol".

Bob Wheaton

Alan Neil Macdonald, journalist and television executive: born London 24 April 1945; married 1969 Janice Clark (two sons, two daughters); died London 9 January 1999.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing