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
Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • 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: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Advertising Sales Consultant - OTE £30k

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Gloucestershire's most innovati...

Recruitment Genius: Telephone Advertising Sales Consultant - OTE £40k

£18000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Gloucestershire's most innovati...

Recruitment Genius: Advertising Sales Consultant - OTE £50,000

£24000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Gloucestershire's most innovati...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders