BBC to make itself heard in more countries

The Director-General of the BBC has outlined plans to change Britain’s national broadcaster, including by reaching some very secretive states. But how much impact can a message have?

If you’re planning to watch BBC1 tonight, you might be surprised by how much company you’re in. The BBC’s most recent estimate of the size of its global audience reports that 308 million people watch, listen to or read its content. One in 16 adults around the world are now using Britain’s public service broadcaster.

Now the BBC’s Director-General, Tony Hall, has outlined plans which may increase that number even further. Significant investment in the corporation’s international programming will mean more of its content being broadcast to areas including Russia, India and the Middle East. Most intriguingly, the corporation is planning to launch a daily programme for North Korea — a country whose regime allows almost no interaction between its people and the outside world.

Lord Hall says the proposals will ‘make Britain the greatest cultural force in the world’. They will have an impact closer to home too, with an ‘Ideas Service’, which will bring together material from museums, galleries and universities, and a children’s iPlayer among the initiatives he outlined.

But they come at a time when the BBC is under significant financial pressure. Chancellor George Osborne announced in his Budget in July that the corporation would begin to take on the cost of providing free TV licences to over-75s. With the BBC Charter due to be renewed next year, speculation has been rife that the TV licence may be changed. Funding cuts are expected and some services may be abandoned.

Those listening to the BBC in North Korea are almost certain to do so at great risk to their personal safety, while Russian President Vladimir Putin is also unlikely to welcome the corporation’s attempt to subvert his control of the media. Oppressive regimes have often been intolerant of messages from the outside world. Under the Nazis, Germans who listened to foreign radio stations could be convicted of treason and sentenced to death. The Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 and still present a threat in the country today, banned all television, radio and films.

Softly, softly

Commentators such as Joseph Stiglitz say that ideas and messages can change the world more than military strength can. The best way to project freedom and democracy around the world is to inspire and educate those who live at the whim of others. Soft power — our culture and ideology — is the greatest asset the free world has.

Robert Kaufman disagrees. Soft power makes a difference, but can be vastly overrated. When someone points a weapon at you, defending yourself requires the ability to point one back. Inspiring others may help, but is often meaningless if not accompanied by tough decisions.

You Decide

  1. Do you agree with the BBC’s plans?
  2. Which are more powerful — messages or weapons?

Activities

  1. In groups, create a news programme (on TV or radio if possible) which you would show to the people of Russia or North Korea if you could.
  2. Write a letter to Tony Hall outlining what you would do if you were in his position. Does the BBC need to change, and if so, how? How important do you think it is? What do you think of the plans he has outlined here?

Some People Say...

“The media’s the most powerful entity on earth.”

Malcolm X

What do you think?

Q & A

What changes might I notice?
Alongside the ‘ideas service’ and children’s iPlayer which you might want to use, the BBC is making some other alterations. It’s planning to change iPlayer, so that it gives a taste of content from other broadcasters, and to change its education, news and entertainment services in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
What will the BBC be like in 10 years’ time?
That mainly depends what happens during next year’s charter review (an event which takes place every decade). But John Whittingdale has said that the BBC will be asked to ‘make the same efficiency savings as we’re asking every public body to do’. The BBC is therefore likely to face funding cuts, meaning that some of its TV channels and radio stations might need to close or offer a more limited service.

Word Watch

Public service broadcaster
The BBC differs from other British broadcasters as it is funded by the TV licence, rather than advertising revenue or subscription fees, and subject to a charter outlining its mission to ‘inform, educate and entertain’ the public.
International programming
This includes BBC World News on TV and, on the radio, the BBC World Service (which has 210 million listeners).
Regime
According to Amnesty International, the North Korean government led by Kim Jong-Un ‘is violating every conceivable human right’. Torture and brutal executions are common and many people are held in appalling conditions in prison camps.
TV licence
The TV licence (which currently costs each household which uses a colour TV £145.50) is the primary way in which the BBC makes money. John Whittingdale, a critic of the licence fee model, was appointed as Culture Secretary in May, casting doubt over its future.
Nazis
Josef Goebbels, who headed Germany’s Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda in the Nazi era, had a very tight control on the messages which people were allowed to hear.

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