Ian Burrell: From radio to television, mobile phones and iPads

Share
Related Topics

When the BBC World Service began in 1932 it was called the BBC Empire Service and it broadcast only on shortwave. Today its audience is likely to be tuning in to FM signals and listening to it via mobile telephone.

A service that in its early years was characterised by the chimes of Big Ben and the "Lillibullero" march now owes its reputation not just to the reliability of its news coverage but to gripping radio soap operas such as Story Story (Nigeria), New Home, New Life (Afghanistan) and Kimasomaso (Kenya).

With 241 million watching, listening to or accessing by internet its global output, the BBC has the largest audience of any international news provider. But the old rituals are changing fast. The BBC stopped the shortwave service in Europe two years ago and is now reconfiguring its strategy in other parts of the world to keep pace with technological change.

In India and Bangladesh, where there is increasing provision of local FM radio, there has been a 15 million reduction in the BBC's shortwave audience in the year 2009-2010. The BBC is either setting up its own FM transmission in key cities, or entering into partnership with local media organisations.

The director of the World Service, Peter Horrocks, said that the "real take off" has been in listening to the BBC's output by phone. "In key markets such as Asia and Africa, people are just starting to use mobile phones for more than texting and phone calls, and the BBC is at the leading edge of introducing content on those new technologies."

During the African Cup of Nations football tournament in Angola earlier this year, the BBC expanded awareness of its services by providing a news and sports service in English, Hausa, Swahili and French. "That was very popular with audiences, being able to get updates on players and news on what was happening around the tournament."

The World Service is also developing popular BBC broadcast formats for overseas audiences. So there is an Afghan version of Radio 4's Woman's Hour and audiences in South Asia have enjoyed variations of David Dimbleby's BBC1 show Question Time. "In Bangladesh and Nepal we've taken the Question Time format on the road, going around villages and introducing people to democratic concepts by encouraging people to ask questions of politicians," said Horrocks.

The arrival of the iPad creates significant new opportunities for the BBC's non-English services. The BBC News app includes a stream of the BBC World Service's output in English plus news headlines in Russian, Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, Hindi, Urdu and Persian.

Working in so many languages gives the BBC a deeper understanding of world news than its rivals, Horrocks argues. "That variety of perspectives we have got from different language teams is a huge extra dimension which the BBC can bring to its journalism which most other news organisations haven't got."

The World Service argues it can't afford to stand still – but that doesn't mean it will do away with the shortwave signal just yet. In Nigeria, the government still refuses the BBC access to FM, so listeners to Story Story rely on their shortwave sets. And in countries such as Burma and Somalia, shortwave is the only option.

At a time when the very existence of a BBC licence fee is increasingly questioned, and when the corporation's management is having to introduce significant economies, the expense of overseas broadcasting is considerable. Horrocks must make his case to Sir Peter Ricketts who is conducting a review of foreign policy commitments.

"The fact that Britain provides these services, provides soap operas, great sports content and news you can trust makes people think better of Britain," he said. "Britain funds something that is allowed to be critical of the UK government [and produces] the independent journalism which many parts of the world have no experience of. We are convinced we have a very strong case to make."

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Taking on Ukip requires a delicate balancing act for both main parties

Andrew Grice
Today is a bigger Shabbes than usual in the Jewish world because it has been chosen to launch the Shabbos Project  

Shabbes exerts a pull on all Jews, and today is bigger than ever

Howard Jacobson
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker