Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by BBC World Service

  This paper addresses the points raised in the submission to the FAC by Pierre Vicary, the Father of the NUJ's BBC News (World Service) Chapel. They are dealt with under four main headings:

    Programme quality

    Conditions of employment

    Management and leadership



Assertion: The World Service's programme quality and reputation have declined

    —  Audience research shows that the opposite is the case: with 151 million weekly listeners, audience figures are at their highest level ever, as is the reputation and trust enjoyed by the World Service. In addition, three independent assessments of World Service output for the BBC Governors' World Service Consultative Group have all come to the main conclusion that "the authority and trustworthiness of the World Service continues to be rated very highly".

    —  In Addition, a survey among language service staff at Bush House indicates a satisfaction rating of 80 per cent with services provided by the newsroom, up from 74 per cent and 78 per cent in previous years.

Assertion: After restructuring the World Service's newsgathering needs have become a lower priority

    —  The transfer of line management of the English language journalists in BBC World Service to BBC News has opened up to the World Service the full resources of a large integrated newsgathering operation (50 bureaux, over 200 correspondents in the field.) The result has been that newsgathering has been able to cope with a vastly expanded volume of news programme production for the World Service.

    —  In the case of Assad's funeral, the World Service not only had a dedicated correspondent (Barbara Plett) in Assad's home village to provide colour pieces, but, much more important, a dedicated correspondent in Damascus, where international leaders had gathered, to provide in-depth analysis. This would not have happened were World Service news still a stand-alone operation.

Assertion: The Introduction of the new schedule has damaged programme output

    —  Specific research on programme quality after the introduction of a new schedule last year demonstrates that 50 per cent of the World Service's core audience think the quality of the output has improved, only 13 per cent think it has deteriorated. For a conservative segment of the audience this is an extremely positive result. Far from making the output more monotonous, the introduction of a 24-hours English news stream allows the World Service to offer eight different regional schedules, adapted to the needs of regional audiences across the world and enables programmes to be scheduled at more suitable times of day.


Assertion: Salaries in the World Service are lower than in the rest of the BBC

    —  This is false. Salaries employees in World Service News and World Service Lanuage Services are comparable to those in domestic radio news.

    —  A recent MORI survey among World Service staff showed 71 per cent of those responding were satisfied with the BBC as an employer.

Assertion: Bush House staff have the highest level of nightshift working in the whole of the BBC

    —  This is not the case. Other networks such as News 24, 5 Live, Breakfast News and the "Today" programme have comparable levels of nightshift working. Nightshift working in Bush House complies with the strict regulations laid down by the EU's Working Time Directive. In addition, journalists in World Service News aged 55 and over have an exemption from nightshifts. An increase in night pay was agreed with the trade unions as part of the annual pay negotiations last summer. The BBC has also proposed a joint working party with the unions to look at benefits and reward issues. This working party is currently meeting.

Assertion: The policy of Fixed Term Contracts has been pursued for too long

    —  For a number of years the World Service operated a fixed-term contract policy which was designed to bring new talent into the Service at regular intervals. This was to ensure that World Service output remained relevant to the target audience and in touch with recent developments, although it was often impossible for journalists to travel to the countries to which they were broadcasting. However, in the current international climate this policy was no longer felt necessary or appropriate. As a result we have been progressively moving more people onto continuous contracts over the past two years. Substantial progress has been made. The proportion of staff in World Service Broadcasting on continuing contacts now stands at 78 per cent; a year ago it was 58 per cent.

Assertion: The introduction of NEON (replacing the newspaper cuttings service) has made production work more difficult

    —  The traditional newspaper cuttings service is still available for any journalist who wishes to use it. However, the introduction of NEON, plus other online research services, which supply a much wider range of source material, plus vastly improved searchability, has led journalists themselves to migrate from paper cutting to the electronic version.

Assertion: The introduction of ENPS (Electronic News Production System) has been a failure

    —  ENPS has become the international benchmark for broadcast newsroom production systems. It is currently used in nearly 300 newsrooms in 30 countries. But it is a new system and it is still developing. Almost everyone who uses it likes many things about it—its research capability, its links with the internet, the fact that there is now a common system across the BBC which allows easy access to what everybody else is doing. Some recent problems stem from the success of ENPS—our staff are using it more and more and this is putting some strain on server capacity. This is being addressed.


Assertion: The World Service lacks effective leadership

    —  This is not supported by the available evidence. In two staff surveys (ie for 1997 and 1999) which have been conducted since World Service News was incorporated into the domestic BBC News, the overall results show an increasing level of support for the leadership of World Service.

    —  The World Service has also recently been accredited by Investors in People, a nationally recognised award following an independent audit by an external assessor. Investors in People looks for evidence that the organisation has met a number of criteria including effective leadership, the existence of a clear vision for the organisation, and commitment to the organisation's goals by the employees. This evidence is gathered through interviews with a randomly selected cross section of staff. In his report for the World Service, the lead assessor stated that "the interviews revealed positive staff perceptions of World Service" and "the assessors detected strong leadership skills at topmost management level."

Assertion: Ethnicity targets for the World Service are too low, the NUJ would like to see targets of "25 per cent say for all staff and 10-15 per cent for managers".

    —  The World Service already employs over 35 per cent of people from ethnic minorities across all grades and 33 per cent in the middle management grades. There is, however, more work to be done at senior level, ie the top two management grades. There are currently 7 per cent of ethnic minorities within senior management (which exceeds the corporate target of 4 per cent), but we are far from complacent and have an explicitly stated goal of improving this level of representation. To address this, we have been working in full consultation with the unions on an action plan to address development and succession issues regarding these senior grades. The overall level of ethnic minorities representation specifically in World Service News programmes managed by BBC News is 14.9 per cent.

Assertion: The removal of the World Service name shows a failure to understand the World Service's credo

    —  Bush House is a multi-tenanted building which, in addition to being the headquarters of the World Service, is also home to staff from BBC News, Factual and Learning, New Media, Worldwide and Resources. However, within the building World Service branding is more clearly visible than ever before in the areas occupied by World Service staff, with new display stands on every floor and directional signs.


Assertion: World Service management is spending the additional funding on new services rather than addressing staffing and salaries issues

    —  In the Spending Review 2000 the World Service was allocated an additional £64 million for the period 2001-02—2003-04, ie a 3.8 per cent annual average increase in real terms. The Treasury White Paper, published in July 2000 at the time the Spending Review Settlement was announced, clearly defined how the additional funding should be used:

      "The BBCWS will be funded to become the world's reference point not only on radio but on the Internet with expansion into more languages. The World Service will continue to spread its FM presence around the world and plans to broadcast in 135 capitals by 2004. The BBCWS will be increasing the amount of customised and regionally focused material in its broadcasts. Increased investment will also enable the BBCWS to maintain its traditional audience on short and medium wave bands through the renewal of key transmitters."

    —  There are of course established channels and procedures to discuss staffing and salary issues with the unions.

Assertion: There is a chronic failure to plan and maintain realistic budgets

    —  The World Service's budgetary performance is good, with an effective annual budgetary process and a high degree of adherence to budget plans. Over the last full financial year 1999-2000, total expenditure was within 0.8 per cent of budget.

Assertion: The new English schedule is under-resourced

    —  The English network has received a funding injection of over £6 million additional investment since 1997-98. No other area of World Service activity has received such a scale of investment over the same period.

Assertion: Not enough production effort has been relocated overseas

    —  In some of the World Service's language services an increasing proportion of production effort comes from overseas production bases (Russian, Spanish for Latin America, Hindi, Czech). The World Service constantly reviews the option of shifting further production resources to the target regions, including English programming, where this improves both output and efficiency.

  In summary, the World Service is currently achieving its highest audience ever, programme quality through independent audience research is judged to be high and, indeed, improving. We believe the investment priorities for online development, FM expansion and improved audibility are the right areas to ensure the World Service remains the most respected voice in international broadcasting, bringing benefit to Britain.

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Prepared 19 April 2001