The BBC World Service has published its performance review covering the period of 2016 – 2020.
The review, set out in the 2016 Agreement with the Secretary of State for Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), examines how the BBC World Service has performed in three key areas: growing global reach, achieving quality and impact, and delivering value for the UK audience.
The period of review only captured the first few months of the global Coronavirus pandemic, but the BBC says it “evidences its strong digital expansion and quality journalism which saw the BBC respond swiftly to the operational and editorial challenges posed by Covid-19”.
Liliane Landor, Senior Controller of BBC International Services and Director of World Service, commented: “Internationally, BBC World Service is one of the most respected and recognised British brands, known for values of quality and fairness and provides substantial benefits to the UK. This review shows the incredible impact that the World Service delivers for audiences at home and abroad and we’re incredibly proud of the work our teams have done to create impactful journalism and reach more people than ever before.”
Growing Global Reach
During the period covered by this review, the total reach of BBC World Service has grown significantly, by 42 per cent, from 246 million people on average each week in March 2016 to 351 million people in March 2020.
This success is in part to the huge digital growth, with digital platforms contributing 33 per cent of the total reach across BBC World Service Languages and English. In addition to the BBC’s £254 million annual commitment from the licence fee, significant grant-funded investment from the UK Government (FCDO) of more than £290 million during the period of this review has enabled the World Service to digitally transform whilst also carrying out its biggest expansion of services since the 1940s. This includes launching 12 new language services (six across Africa, four in India and Korean and Serbian services) as well as dedicated TV programming for Africa, and enhanced newsgathering expertise around the world, including in Russia, the Middle East, and a strengthened World Service English editorial offer.
Funding has also enabled the expansion of bureaux in Delhi and Nairobi (now the second and third largest) and the BBC now has over 75 news bureaux and correspondents in more locations than any other global news media across the world.
This increased global reach places the BBC on track to meet the ambition of reaching half a billion people worldwide by the BBC’s centenary in 2022.
Achieving Quality and Impact
The BBC’s brand tracker surveys show the BBC was rated as the number one international news provider on measures of quality and impact again in March 2020, achieving the licence target for the BBC to be rated higher than relevant international competitors.
The period covered by this review has coincided with significant events that have impacted people across the world. The World Service has helped to shine a light on the stories that needed to be told and explained those that needed to be understood. In the UK, there have been two general elections and a referendum which resulted in the UK leaving the European Union in January 2020. BBC World Service has helped international audiences to understand what these events have meant for Britain and its place in the world.
Internationally, when President Trump withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear deal, BBC News Persian helped international and UK services understand the impact of this within Iran. When Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi was assassinated, BBC News Arabic kept audiences informed as conflicting narratives emerged over how he died. During heightened tensions off the Crimean peninsula, BBC News Russian and BBC News Ukrainian services worked together to help audiences understand events on the ground and their implications.
The World Service, says it is working to support trusted journalism around the globe and has enhanced its fact-checking services and supported the wider journalism sector. This has been achieved through media literacy programmes, training initiatives for young talent, as well as events that bring media expertise together around common goals, such as the Beyond Fake News conferences which included events across India and Nairobi, with representatives from major tech giants as well as attendees from NGOs, media, and politics. These conferences discussed challenges and potential solutions to the fake news problem.
The World Service’s role at tackling disinformation came into focus as it helped respond to coronavirus myths and rumours in UK and international coverage, which have ranged from 5G mast causation to the protective properties of garlic and drinkable silver.
The BBC says it has strengthened its commitment to global investigative journalism; BBC Africa Eye was launched in April 2018 and is an award-winning bi-weekly TV and online investigations series broadcast in English, Swahili and French, and the first of its kind from the BBC. The investigative journalism programme has made a huge impact across Africa since its launch, often with remarkable results including changes in legislation and arrests where the BBC has exposed illegal and criminal behaviour.
Delivering Value For The UK Audience
In addition to supporting audiences across the world with trusted journalism, BBC World Service says it brings benefits to the UK. Its international expertise enhances the BBC’s UK news services by bringing unique insights to coverage on world events, helping UK audiences to understand what is going on in the world.
UK audiences agree that the World Service helps to inform UK audiences about international events and the UK’s place in the world better than any other brand. A recent survey by Ipsos Mori for the British Council found that awareness of the BBC World Service is strongly linked to a range of positive perceptions of the UK, including perceptions of trust, the perception that the UK supports participants’ core values, and intentions to interact with the UK in the future.
The BBC’s global research project into understanding impact in 2019 showed that BBC consumers are significantly more favourable to the UK than non-BBC consumers, irrespective of a country’s historical ties with the UK.
As the UK forges a new relationship with the world, following the departure from the European Union, the World Service can continue to play a significant role that delivers benefits back to the UK.