World Service


World Service
   The World Service is the BBC’s globally broadcast radio station, with a distinguished history and formidable reputation (though now also working alongside a world channel for television news). An Empire Service in English was established in 1932, with broadcasting in Arabic starting in 1938 and then rapid expansion during the Second World War. The Service may now be heard throughout most of the world in one or more of over forty languages. It employs specialist staff including journalists, experts and translators. There is evidence that the World Service is the most listened to international radio station, despite strong competition from Voice of America and Chinese and other broadcasters, and also the most trusted. The BBC’s news coverage during the war was widely perceived as authoritative, balanced and reliable in depth, free from propaganda or national bias. Some of its war correspondents and their live coverage became widely known. Later, during the Cold War, listeners in Eastern Europe and elsewhere often turned where possible to the BBC for news about both the world and their own country, despite persistent attempts by some governments to prevent the reception of BBC broadcasts.
   For many, the core of the World Service has been its broadcasters’ close knowledge of and affection for the countries to which they broadcast and on which they report. Some correspondents have eloquently defended the Service as the core of the public service broadcasting ideal and objected to management changes and ‘rationalization’ in the BBC of the 1990s.
   In addition to its wide range of news and current affairs, the Service carries English language teaching, and also many other kinds of programmes concerned with business, science, the arts, religion and sport. It can now be heard in Britain (though not straightforwardly) while a major development through digital technology is planned and the World Service has its own website, which may grow in importance. An associated monitoring service obtains and analyses information (available commercially) from a large range of foreign media sources.
   The World Service has always been funded through the Foreign Office (which has offered advice on how much broadcasting time should be given in what languages to what countries) but has remained a successful example of ‘arm’s length’ autonomy from government. A proposed major restructuring of the BBC was seen by many of its most famous and internationally recognized journalists and others as threatening the Service’s quality and independence. After considerable parliamentary and press discussion, a BBC/ Foreign Office steering group was set up in 1996 to safeguard the World Service’s quality and character.
   See also: Radio 3; Radio 4
   Further reading
    Mansell, G. (1982) Let Truth be Told: 50 Years of BBC External Broadcasting, London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson.
   MICHAEL GREEN

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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