Melting pot or goldfish bowl? BBC exposes engine room to the public gaze

Cafe customers in new Broadcasting House building can gaze straight into newsroom

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The public will soon get the chance to see close up the work of news presenters such as Huw Edwards and Emily Maitlis, along with thousands of other BBC journalists.

The new Broadcasting House building will feature a Media Café for up to 450 people, who will be able to drink cappuccino while looking into the BBC's giant new, glass-fronted newsroom, the biggest in Europe.

Staff from the BBC World Service will begin moving into the new offices at the end of this month. The historic Bush House building will be refurbished by its Japanese owners when the BBC's lease runs out at the end of the year, and may re-open as a hotel.

The World Service, which celebrates its 80th anniversary in December, will work more closely with other parts of BBC News when it is incorporated into the new 12-storey multimedia Broadcasting House complex at Portland Place in London. The large newsroom will be a "fantastic melting pot", said Helen Boaden, the director of BBC News. "Simply being in the same building should encourage our ambition. The Today programme will have language service colleagues from the World Service in the same building. When there's a breaking foreign story, those World Service colleagues will be able to give the context for the Radio 4 audience."

The basement newsroom, which will house 6,000 BBC staff, will have five acoustically separate television studios. A large atrium will allow the space to be overlooked from the upper storeys of the building. The Media Café will stand on the ground floor, so members of the public could be in camera shot if it suited producers. The BBC hopes the initiative will provide a greater sense of interactivity with the public. In the United States, networks have often encouraged audiences to watch shows being broadcast from street-side studios.

The World Service was earmarked for a 16 per cent cut in its £270m budget as part of last year's spending review. But after an outcry the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, agreed to find extra funding, particularly to support the Arabic Service.

The World Service hopes its presence in a "state-of-the-art newsroom" will help it expand its audience, said Peter Horrocks, its director. "Access to independent and high-quality news remains scarce. In many parts of the world, impartial and trusted news is almost becoming an endangered species," he said. "A tight financial climate does not mean we need to shrink our ambition – we want to reach more people, deliver greater impact and remain the most trusted broadcaster in the world."

The service was originally based on the site of the former Broadcasting House but a wartime explosion forced the European services to move to a studio hastily created on an ice rink in Maida Vale, north-west London. The following year the World Service moved into Bush House, between The Strand and Aldwych in London, close to what was then the heart of the British newspaper industry in Fleet Street. The BBC paid a weekly rent of £30.

The World Service opened with words by Rudyard Kipling, read from Sandringham by King George V: "I speak now from my home and from my heart to you all."