Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140 - 144)



  140. There was a gentleman in Sierra Leone who was under sentence of death under the courts of President Kabah and he was a BBC journalist, one of yours. No light was thrown on that. I do not know whether you could take the opportunity now. What goes through my mind is that perhaps you picked somebody who was not meeting the highest journalistic standards of impartiality and so on and who was identifying with one of the rebel sides, of which there were many there, and then he was actually under sentence of death. I and other colleagues were asking questions. What happened there?
  (Mr Byford) I would have to get you an information note on that. Forgive me. You have a different level of request on that specific and I shall do that straightaway for you. We have correspondents of our own—whether it be Mark Doyle in West Africa—we also have freelancers who are working specifically for us on retainers and then we have stringers. I shall do some very quick research on this and then send you a briefing note on the most up-to-date information.

  141. You heard the earlier evidence about Belarus and you heard my reaction. What is your experience? What are you doing and have you had this frustration?
  (Mr Byford) Your discussions with The British Council were about pulling out. There is not that discussion with the World Service because we do not have a correspondent in Minsk specifically for the World Service. There have been some discussions internally about what we can do to improve our offer within Belarus, particularly with the presidential elections coming up for October. That goes in with a number of conversations that both the Foreign Affairs Committee and others are always talking to us about, which are around what we can do for this specific area that is more than we have today. We have no specific plans for a specific language provision for that area.

  142. I understand that. You would orientate things towards Belarus via your Russian language service.
  (Mr Byford) Yes, we do. Yes, we could. Obviously we broadcast our Russian service. There is the ability, but one has to look at it in pecuniary terms as well.

  143. Is there FM there?
  (Mr Byford) I do not think there is. No, there is not. However, in our strategy to be on FM in every capital city of the world, we were on 90-odd a year ago, we are now on 121, we want to be on 135 by 2003-04, which would be 70 per cent of all the capital cities. I take the flavour of your comments that you would like Minsk to be one of them and we shall pursue that but we cannot determine it.

Mr Rowlands

  144. Thank you very much indeed. I think the lines of questions Sir John and Mr Mackinlay have been following have been very important and a rather good way to finish. We inevitably get involved in the nitty-gritty and details and the critical aspects but this line of questions has brought out the fundamental principles behind the BBC World Service and the reputation and independence which have been maintained from its birth. This Committee has always backed and supported that wholeheartedly. Thank you very much for coming.

  (Mr Byford) I recognise that too. I do remember my first appearance with you here where I said it was a privilege to run the Service. Two years on I feel that even more. It is a service with enormous impact in terms of audience reach but one which faces big pressures. It also has a reputation which in terms of journalistic standards is absolutely second to none. I shall do everything I can and with your support to retain that position.

  Mr Rowlands: Thank you very much.

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