Global domination is the target for World Service

From Pakistan to sub-Saharan Africa, the head of the BBC broadcaster tells Ian Burrell of his plans to spread the word
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The Independent Online

The BBC is hoping to launch a television news service in Pakistan in order to provide an alternative to what the corporation's director of Global News yesterday described as the "sensationalist" and "biased" reports of some existing broadcasters in the politically-volatile South Asian state.

Peter Horrocks, who is also the director of the BBC World Service, said the provision of a BBC Urdu television service would build on the popularity of the corporation's Arabic and Persian television networks and would offer a valued source of independent journalism to the people of Pakistan. The plan follows growing interest from Pakistani internet users in the video footage embedded in the BBC Urdu website.

"In Pakistan TV news is expanding very fast but with very sensationalist and in some cases quite politically biased news channels, and the BBC ideally would be providing an important alternative source of news in such a politically important part of the world," Mr Horrocks told The Independent.

He described Pakistan as one of a series of "key places" where the BBC would like to expand its operations, noting that "our [Urdu] radio service is still very strong, and our online service is the most popular online news service in Pakistan".

Mr Horrocks also has ambitions for new BBC television networks in sub-Saharan Africa, working alongside local broadcasters. The BBC enjoys large audiences for its radio and online services in Africa, most notably in Kenya and Nigeria. "We would want a pan-Africa service which builds on the BBC's strength as the broadcaster and news provider that helps to bind Africa together. That's a real aspiration," he said. "Our largest audiences are in Africa and the BBC reputation there is still very strong. We think that working with national television partners across Africa we can help to provide infrastructure and training and standards to journalists. Our largest audiences are in Kenya and Nigeria, so it would be a sub-Saharan service rather than one for North Africa and the Arabic-speaking market."

The BBC has been encouraged by the response to its recently launched Arabic and Persian television networks, with the former now attracting 12 million viewers, a similar audience to that which listens to the BBC Arabic service on radio. The Persian output, launched in January 2009, has angered the Iranian government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the network's signal has repeatedly been blocked. "We knew how important it was to Iranian audiences once the Iranian government started jamming," said Mr Horrocks, who claimed that the network was sometimes viewed at meetings of the Iranian cabinet. "We got thousands of emails and complaints from listeners in Iran who were desperate not to lose that independent source of information. So we took extra satellite space on transponders that couldn't be jammed."

The planned new services come at a time when the BBC at home is facing cost-cutting measures as part of a Strategic Review, which is likely to lead to the closure of the radio services BBC 6 Music and BBC Asian Network. The World Service receives a budget of £272m from the Foreign Office but the Government last week announced it would be implementing a three per cent cut in funding. At the same time a Strategic Defence and Security Review, which is being carried out on all British foreign policy matters, could have implications for the future of BBC services overseas.

Another ambition of Mr Horrocks is to offer English language lessons in Africa via mobile phones. This would be funded separately through the BBC World Service Trust charity. The programme has already been successful in Bangladesh. "For an incredibly low cost call, every day you can dial up and receive an English language lesson," said Mr Horrocks.