April 1 marks a watershed for the BBC World Service, which for all of its 82-year history has been funded by the UK Government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The BBC will now take financial responsibility for the service – one of the most respected and trusted international broadcasters in the world – paying for it from the income generated by the licence fee, payable by all television owners in the UK.
With 188 million global listeners, services in 28 languages and a core remit to “Bring the world to the world”, the World Service has historically been outwardly focused. Ever since the decision was made in 2010 to bring the World Service under licence fee funding, there have been concerns over how UK licence fee payers will ultimately feel about funding a service previously seen as providing for an international audience. Now with ‘Bring the world to the UK’ set as a key remit for the broadcaster, the World Service has a critical role to play for domestic as well as international audiences.
But as the service moves into a new era, there is the question of how its interests will be represented and preserved within the BBC. The Director of the World Service, (now also Director of BBC Global News) no longer sits on either the BBC management or executive boards. In 2011 the CBA published the report Brave New World Service, which considered the future of the World Service, highlighting some challenges but also the opportunities these changes could present for the service.
CBA Secretary-General Sally-Ann Wilson, who commissioned the report, said: “Then, as now, we maintain that the World Service has never been more relevant or needed – for audiences around the world with no other source of honest news, and for the UK public, who could benefit from the service’s expertise – having a news service with better quality international coverage that more accurately reflects the nature of our globalised world.”
Set in stone? (Above right) Inscribed with place names from across the globe, the new artwork embedded in the paving outside Broadcasting House was designed to reflect the international dimension of the BBC’s broadcasting