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Thursday, February 11, 1999 Published at 00:17 GMT


World Service reshapes for 21st century

Bush House: multimedia future for multilingual broadcaster

The BBC World Service has announced ambitious plans to compete for global audiences with an expansion of its Internet output, FM broadcasts and English programming.

Mark Byford: multimedia output World Service's core proposition for the future
The BBC says it is part of strategy to reposition itself for the 21st century.

World Service investment in BBC News Online will strengthen output in key regions such as Africa, Asia and the Middle East. In addition World Service has pledged to provide up to 12 multilingual text services by the year 2002.

But one casualty of the plans is the BBC German Service, which is to be closed with the loss of almost 30 jobs after 61 years of operation.

Second English radio network

The World Service also announced plans for a new 24 hour English radio news channel in addition to a network devoted to general programmes, to be called World Service Plus.

[ image: Online in Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Spanish: more will follow]
Online in Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Spanish: more will follow
These will be available on the Internet and satellite while other listeners will continue to receive a mix of programmes from both streams. Shortwave broadcasts will be reduced in areas where there is an alternative, higher quality, means of delivery.

The developments will be paid for by extra government money, announced last year.

Online expansion

The BBC estimated that in the next three years, over 300 million people will be connected to the Internet worldwide.

"World Service is broadcasting in a world where competition for audiences is increasing fierce - we need to use media our audiences use," said chief executive, Mark Byford.

He said the changes mean BBC World Service will remain the first choice for objective, independent news and a showcase for British creativity and talent.

German Service to close

The most obvious cut is the closure of the German language service after 61 years.

The BBC says its target in the developed world is what it calls "opinion formers" and "decision makers". It quotes audience research showing a quarter of this category in Berlin listen to the BBC but only 10% listen in German.

Mark Byford: 'Language range always changing to fit needs and priorities'
German broadcasts will stop at the end of March. Mr Byford said the service has "a distinguished history, particularly during the Second World War and the Cold War" when he said it was a vital source of information.

The World Service also aims to reduce costs in the Hungarian, Czech and Thai services, and English-language teaching programmes will focus on a smaller range of countries.

Mr Byford said the reduction of World Service shortwave broadcasts would not affect the least developed and politically sensitive parts of the world where shortwave broadcasting has its core audience.

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