Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140
TUESDAY 30 JANUARY 2001
MR M BYFORD
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 ownwhether it be Mark Doyle
in West Africawe 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.
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.