Accent stations

CNN has a rival in the global news war: the TV arm of the BBC's World Service. To meet the threat it has ditched its Rambo image and unleashed a new weapon - the man from Auntie.

Praying for a catastrophe is evil and perverted, but one could understand if the bosses of CNN were occasionally tempted to stoop to such despicable behaviour. Ted Turner's 24-hour news network in Atlanta only really comes into its own when awful conflicts and crises erupt in some godforsaken part of the globe. That is its biggest - some would say its only - strength. But that is about to change ...

CNN is making a determined effort to shed its gung-ho, Rambo reputation and present a more civilized and sophisticated image. It has even lured an Englishman over to its crazy news factory in Georgia, to make it less American.

Chris Cramer has stripped out "self-congratulatory stuff" about CNN's Gulf war coverage. "That happened six years ago, and our audience don't want perpetually to be reminded of it in our promos," he says.

Cramer, 49, who comes from Portsmouth, was previously head of news-gathering at the BBC, which basically means he told the likes of Kate Adie where to go. He is now vice-president and managing editor of CNNI, the international stablemate of Turner's US cable news channel.

In this new role, Cramer finds himself pitted in direct competititon with many of his former colleagues in what CNN's president, chairman and chief executive, Tom Johnson dramatically describes as "global news wars". BBC World, the sound and vision version of the BBC World Service, is aiming to cash in on its reputation for journalistic integrity and impartiality to become a brand leader in news and current affairs across the globe.

"BBC World is the fastest-growing news channel and we are snapping at the heels of CNN," declares Hugh Williams, director of channels with BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the corporation.

Cramer acknowledges that his old employer is moving up in the world, but he denies feeling threatened. "I never underestimate Auntie, having worked for her for quarter of a century," he says. "Of course the BBC is a competitor. But they're still staring at our backside and I'd like it to stay that way."

CNNI is a major element in CNN, which grossed $160m (pounds 100m) last year and returned a $70m profit. "We're not prepared to sit around and see a decline in our revenues," Cramer adds. "My job is to make sure that we maintain our market lead."

To do this, Cramer is spearheading a "regionalisation" stratgey. Basically, CNN is seeking to catch up with the big US news magazines Time and Newsweek by offering its audience outside America less American-oriented content. The bulk of its output will continue to emanate from the CNN Center in Atlanta, but the aim is to make it more international. The presenters are under strict orders to avoid what Cramer calls "silly American colloquialisms which do damage". Viewers in Europe, Asia and Latin America are to receive more news and features tailored for their tastes. The European regional feeds will be handled by CNN's London bureau.

Situated off Charlotte Street, not far from BBC Broadcasting House, this branch office is being refurbished as part of a $6m investment which will also entail the hiring of 40 more journalists, in London, Hong Kong and Atlanta. As well as giving CNNI's output a more localised feel, the recruits will be charged with ensuring that CNN has something to offer on slow news days.

"Of course we never want to lose our capacity to cover big breaking stories," Cramer says. "But we have to give people more reasons to watch us when there isn't a hostage crisis in Peru or whatever."

CNN's aim is to generate what Cramer calls "appointment viewing" during quiet news periods. To that end it is devising an arts programme for its European audience, which will be produced by a British-based independent.

Over in west London, BBC World's bosses see all this as a flattering effort to emulate their more varied and in-depth output. As well as drawing upon the BBC's established network of 250 foreign correspondents, it also gives an international airing to flagship factual programmes such as Panorama, Top Gear and Horizon.

"We're certainly not just serving up what I would call `newzak', an endless repetition of bare facts with no analysis," says Bob Wheaton, BBC World's commissioning editor, with that air of superiority which only Brits can so effortlessly summon.

When BBC World Service Television was launched in 1991, great effort was made to ensure that it emulated its radio forerunner with a thoughful, analytical and truly international approach. "We're not pretending we're broadcasting from outer space," Wheaton says. "It's clear we're coming from London. But we're not peddling a British perspective."

Wheaton and his collagues are cock-a-hoop about the fact that their channel is now in 29 million cable homes across the continent. It is proving particularly popular in Germany and the Benelux countries. But BBC World has to make the most of those advances in terms of advertising revenue (it carries commercials, unlike the domestic BBC channels). And, although it has recently managed to get back into China via satellite (having been unceremoniously ditched by Rupert Murdoch), it has had difficulty in breaking into the US market. Negotiating cable carriage across the Atlantic has proved more difficult than expected, although BBC World hopes to strike up a distribution deal with Discovery Communications and its cable backer, TCI.

Wheaton says he is always coming across Americans in London who would love to be able to access the BBC back home. Surely their reason for wanting to watch BBC World cannot be the same as that cited by 75 per cent of the service's existing viewers in a recent survey - a desire to improve their English?

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
football This was Kane’s night, even if he played just a small part of it
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
people
Voices
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
News
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Web Developer - ASP.NET, C#, MVC - London

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Web Developer -...

Ashdown Group: .NET Developer : ASP.NET , C# , MVC , web development

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits - see advert: Ashdown Group: .N...

Guru Careers: 3D Package Designer / 3D Designer

£25 - 30K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an exceptional 3D Package Designer / 3...

Guru Careers: Interior Designer

£Competitive: Guru Careers: We are seeking a strong Middleweight / Senior Inte...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss