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Thursday, October 28, 1999 Published at 13:13 GMT


BBC World: Who wants it?

The World Today will disappear from next April

By BBC media correspondent Torin Douglas

Most people in the UK may not have heard of it, but television news channel BBC World has an enviable global reputation rivalling that of World Service radio.

The BBC's Torin Dougals reports
In its coverage of events such as the recent political upheaval in Pakistan, BBC World is widely acknowledged to have stolen a march on its longer-established American rival CNN.

The day after the military coup in Pakistan, BBC World anchorman Nik Gowing secured the first interview with the spokesman for the Pakistan army.

[ image: Nic Gowing, the programme's main presenter]
Nic Gowing, the programme's main presenter
Within minutes, the brigadier's words were on Pakistan's news agency wires - and within hours BBC News Online had 4,000 e-mails from Pakistan.

"They were finding out about their own country from us and we were talking to the people they wanted information from. That is the new influence," said Nik Gowing.

Nato spokesman Jamie Shea maintains BBC World provided the best coverage of the Kosovo conflict and he is in no doubt of the channel's importance to Britain.

Job losses

"Very frequently, where once in a foreign ministry I would see CNN on all day, now I see BBC World, including the State Department and the White House in the United States, and I can't think of a higher accolade than that."

But BBC World is now having to shed 50 jobs and scrap its main current affairs and analysis programmes - because it is losing money. There have been protests from BBC journalists like John Simpson and Kate Adie, and senior figures round the world.

Jamie Shea says he is flabbergasted and supports plans to raise the issue with MPs. "I would hope before BBC World is changed out of recognition there would be a public debate and a parliamentary debate, given that BBC World is not just a commercial TV channel but a flagship."

The problem for BBC World is that it has always had to rely entirely on commercial revenue.

With no government backing, it was not till after the success of CNN during the Gulf War, that the BBC finally launched its television version of the World Service, on a shoestring, in 1991.

Four years later, with proper funding from the Corporation's commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, the channel was relaunched as BBC World.

But though audiences grew rapidly, along with its reputation, the harsh realities of the marketplace have proved too much.

Less analysis

BBC Governor Pauline Neville-Jones: "There is a certain loss but it's a loss we can bring back"
Last year BBC World lost £16m, on a budget said - unofficially - to be around £25m. The chief executive of BBC Worldwide, Rupert Gavin, denies claims he wanted to close the channel, but says it must be put on a more businesslike footing.

"Every pound we lose on BBC World is a straight deduction from the cash return we make to the BBC and that money goes into programes, to enhance the range of services and the quality of the programmes the licence payer enjoys."

From next April, the longer, more analytical programmes like The World Today will disappear. BBC World will provide a half-hour bulletin of world news every hour, with more business and sports reports.

Rupert Gavin says research shows this is what the international viewers - and advertisers - want and he is bullish about the future, saying advertising and audiences are already on the increase.

Nik Gowing accepts it is a tough challenge, but believes the channel will retain its authority.

"We will still have rolling news, we will still reflect breaking stories in a big way and in the end a culture which has been created of news analysis in a 24-hour news environment cannot be killed."

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