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Last Updated: Friday, 7 November, 2003, 17:15 GMT
Icy stand-off in whisky row

By Mark Coyle
BBC News Online

What's in a name? Plenty, if it's the name of a Scotch whisky.

An advert in Spanish, explaining the changes made to Cardhu
A row has blown up over a change in the way one of the most popular malts on Speyside is made and marketed - and the bitter dispute shows little sign of abating.

The worldwide drinks company, Diageo, has changed the composition of Cardhu from a "single malt" to a "pure malt".

In short, it is now a mixture of malt whiskies from several distilleries on Speyside instead of being just one.

However, the bone of contention is that the name "Cardhu" is still being used and the only change on the label is the use of the word "pure" instead of "single".

Diageo's rivals are up in arms, warning that the move will seriously damage the reputation of the Scotch whisky industry and the row has now reached the House of Commons where MPs have entered the fray.

Supply economics

The traditional Cardhu 12-year-old single malt is only available in the UK at the distillery. Its main destinations are Spain, Greece, Portugal and France.

Therein lies the twist, according to Diageo. Demand for Cardhu, particularly in Spain, had outstripped supply and the company was unable to provide its markets with the "single" malt.

Cardhu is produced at Knockando in Moray
For years, the whisky was sold as a "single" malt
Bottling of the single malt ended in March and Diageo set out on a consultation process along with trade and consumer marketing programmes.

Company spokeswoman Jane Richardson is at pains to point out that although the product does now contain a variety of malts, the Cardhu "single" malt is among them.

Diageo, which owns and manages more than 30 Scotch whiskies, is totally committed to "protecting the integrity and quality credentials" of all its premium drinks brands, she insists.

Rival Speyside distiller William Grant & Sons, however, is unimpressed and the atmosphere between the two companies suggests they are unlikely to be sharing a convivial dram of their own products in the near future.

It is about never bottling anything but single malt under a single malt brand name
Tony Hunt
William Grant & Sons
Such is the scale of the dispute that the Commons Scotch Whisky Industry Group met Diageo management on Thursday to discuss the rift. Another meeting is to be held next week.

Following the talks, Tony Hunt, deputy managing director of William Grant, said: "We are grateful to MPs at Westminster and MSPs in Edinburgh whose urgent intervention shows they have recognised the seriousness of the threat posed to the value of the single malt category.

"However, we can't afford to fudge the real issue. This is not just a matter of label design, it is about never bottling anything but single malt under a single malt brand name.

"We will monitor the developments very closely and very much hope that an acceptable solution is found because there is deep-rooted concern about this issue throughout the Scotch whisky industry."

'Damaging crisis'

Angus Robertson, the Scottish National Party MP whose Moray constituency includes many distilleries on Speyside, is vice-chairman of the Commons whisky group.

He said: "We sincerely hope that realistic proposals will be made next week by Diageo to help end this damaging crisis.

"Thousands of jobs depend on the continued success of Scotch whisky both directly and indirectly in the agriculture, tourism and service sectors.

Glenfiddich
Some of William Grant & Sons' rival products
"Eventually a solution needs to be found in the council of the Scotch Whisky Association.

"This issue goes much wider than simple commercial considerations and we all have a stake in boosting what is a terrific and unique high-quality Scottish product."

This weekend sees the latest in a series of "advertorials" placed by Diageo in the Sunday press, explaining the change in the way Cardhu is made but promoting the continuing traditional methods by which it is distilled.

The war of words may go on but the final say will come from the tongues of consumers.


The following is a selection of the emails you sent us.

So what if demand outsrips supply? That's the difference between exclusive and commonplace. It sounds like money-grabbing. Single malts are unique in character so what a shame we lose yet another likeable personality.
James Whitehead, England

Well done Diageo! I attended one of their recruitment events recently where they won me over by their passion for the product and their belief in the strength of their brands. I am no longer applying as they are sacrificing the long-term future of the brand to maximise short-term profit. History is littered with brands that were convinced that their consumers would accept a shift to a lower quality product. How wrong they all were....
Anon, UK

It is very sad that Diageo seems to be trying to deceive unsuspecting consumers, but I am sure that a bottle proclaiming its contents as ¿pure malt¿ will not fool most of the true single malt drinkers. Doesn¿t Glenfiddich produce a number of blended scotches too? I am more worried that this will inspire people to search out some of the better, smaller single malts, reducing my supply!
Geoff, USA

Like others, I occasionally enjoyed Cardhu but will buy it no more. To my shame, I am a Diageo shareholder, but the owners of the company are of course not consulted about matters such as these. All I can do is to vote against any of the board standing for re-election, but this I WILL do.
David Holman, Switzerland

The term "pure malt" is misleading since there is more than one malt present. It should be in the plural eg "pure malts" or "pure malt constituent whiskies". Perhaps a lawyer could comment on whether the goods are not "as described" and therefore contrary to the Sale of Goods Act.
Chris, Wales

If Diageo want to change Cardhu from a single malt to a blended, sorry, pure malt then that's up to them. I've heard that apparently people do drink blended whiskies. But why Diageo expect their customers to still buy it, when in fact it would be a totally different product, is beyond me.
Jamie Gordon, UK

I will no longer purchase Cardhu. I think it's ridiculous for a company to think that a product that sells needs to be changed? If it's not broken don't fix it!
John Stroud, England

Exactly what is "pure" about this new product? The mess it makes of the Cardhu name? Surely only a single cask malt expresses the water of life's purity?
Tall Tone, England

As a Diageo shareholder I am very disapointed that my company is trying to cut corners with Cardhu whisky. If there is not enough to go round then that is too bad. The company should put the price up to cut demand to increase our profits.
Peter & Jane Harris, England

Surely the use of the word "pure" implies the same as "single", in that it is the product of a single distillery. This is surely a corruption of the traditions of whisky production in a bid to create a larger market abroad at the expense of local consumers. What a joke!
Andy Aveyard, England

I know that tinkering with the ingredients in many products without changing the name in order to continue to enjoy the reputation of the name is pretty common in the bulk of the food and drink industry, this should never be the case with something as unique as a single malt. Rename it, make it Cardhu "lite" (help!) or whatever but never, never do this to a product with a taste that is unique to the name - this is the whole point of the single malt.
Jack Summers-Glass, UK

What a lot of fuss! I can understand a long-term Cardhu drinker being disapointed that his/her staple has changed, but what on earth is everyone else going on about. If you don't like it, don't drink it - fairly simple I would have thought. At least they have gone "public".
Simon McMahon, England

Actually there's nothing fundamentally wrong with this and in fact it's been done for years - blends that consist only of malts used to be called "vatted malts" and many supermarkets sell this under their own brands; often it's very drinkable. It's not correct to say that this isn't malt as some posters here have - it is malt as long as it doesn't contain any grain spirit. It's just not a SINGLE malt. However what I do object to is Diageo's apparent attempt to pass this off by continuing to use the brand name that was previously a respected single malt brand. Even if they called it "Cardhu Vatted" or "Cardhu Blended Malt" there wouldn't be a problem in my opinion. The "pure" tag - while technically correct - appears to be designed to mislead.
Kevin Fitzsimons, England (expat Scot)

Once it has been cut with lemonade, ginger ale etc I doubt if anyone could tell the difference. As with wine, there are a good few whisky snobs out there who if blindfolded could not differentiate. Interesting comment from Mr.Achmed Ali Al-Mubbarak, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Didn't think you guys could partake in the stuff? At the end of the day if it keeps the business rolling and Scotland profitable, so what!
Steve Gulliver, USA (expat)

The Oxford English dictionary definition of "pure" that applies to this sort of situation is "unmixed, unadulterated". I think it takes a pretty long stretch by even marketing droids to actually somehow make this into "mixed, blended, of different types" as they seem to be doing in this case. Just shows how large companies often have no interest in tradition or even correct English when trying to maximise their profits. I don't care whether they turn this whisky into a blend or keep it a single malt. They should at least be honest with their customers though and follow the traditions of the whisky industry.
Ian, UK

I like many single malts, enjoying their variety and distinctive characteristics, and drink blended whisky. However, I expect blended whisky to be labelled as such and with a significantly lower price tag. Diageo are charging the same for their blend as for the single malt, and ar trying to pass it off as a single malt to those without the expertise to tell the difference! Shame on them! This is a cynical con to increase their profits. Increasing the capacity of the distillery (an expensive business) would not show a return for 12-14 years for a 12-year-old single malt. This way they can increase sales immediately - and the only cost is the good name of Scotch whisky everwhere. I will be making very sure that I do not buy any of their adulterated product. How many of their other products have been similarly degraded and defiled? Boycott them all!
Peter Marchant, Scotland

Having just visited a whisky distillery this very weekend in Scotland and learned about the traditions, care and skill that goes into the making of a single malt whisky, I am shocked that Diageo feels it can do this and maintain the quality of its brand. What a disgrace. It seems like no tradition is sacred to the big boys when it comes to making money. Diageo is more famous for its alcopops, and it seems that's what Cardhu has become for it.
Jeff Nutmeg, London

If demand For Cardhu outstrips supply, put the price up. Don't try to con the whisky drinking public.
Neil Smith, Yorkshire

It's a 12-year-old malt. If demand is outstripping supply and you keep selling more than you have in stock, the brand will disappear altogether and you'll only have stock left that is less than 12 years old and will be different anyway. At least Diageo are trying to keep the brand and business alive this way. Fair do's though, they could have been a little more obvious rather than trying to slip the change in unnoticed.
Scott Robertson, UK

Surely there are more important issues to be discussed in the House of Commons than the name of a whisky? If they are lying on the label then fair enough, if they tell the truth to the consumer then so what.
Rob,UK

If top wineries of France, the likes of Mouton Rothchild and Laffite started to blend their wines from grapes outside their estates there would be a national and international outcry! And would be illegal in France too. So isn't it a shame that the government here has no such law to protect a most prestigious and unique British product like single malt. If Diageo for some financial reason wishes to change Cardhu, then it should no longer be allowed to use its name, a name synonymous with single malt and help preserve a British heritage.
Alex, England

I have no problem with the concept of a pure malt, this by definition must still be a high-class and quality product, being made from other single malts (not to be confused with blended whiskies which are made in large part from grain whisky). However to use an establishid brand of single malt and only changing a small part of the lable is outrageous. If they produced this, even using the "Cardhu" name, they should change the label to reflect that it is no longer the same product. I think this amounts to nothing more than misrepresentation.
Alistair, UK

So supply and demand has taken over a long standing tradition of integrity and honesty in one corner of the whisky trade and replaced it with a sort of false advertising! It can and will damage the reputation of the industry if it continues and I hope that the Commons Scotch Whisky Industry Group points out to the powers at Diageo that they are tampering with decades of "Scottish pride" in the making of whisky and one that puts Scotland on the map the world over.
Isobel, Canada

I have not yet had a single malt I didn't like. I've had bad blended whisky and I've had good. It sounds like Diageo are trying to make a good blended malt - but the issue is honesty. It appears they are trying to persuade people that "single" and "pure" are synomymous. They aren't.
John Davis, UK

What about calling the new pure malt "Diageo" then there would be no confusion with the single malt and they can trade on the quality of the corporate brand.
Malcolm Wotton, UK

I live in Spain and the Spanish whisky drinkers drink Cardhu when they want a more expensive/higher quality whisky. If it's blends they want then there are plenty of blended whiskies available at far cheaper prices (like the terrible Spanish whisky DYC).
Brett, Spain

I will no longer purchase my usual Cardhu. I will now purchase a second bottle of Glen Scotia instead.
Geoff Hirst, Scotland

I think it would be interesting for customers to compare the tastes of malt and pure before rejecting the new bottling. As a Western Islander it's not a whisky I drink myself (Talisker, Lagavulin) but I would doubt very much that the "pure" would radically downgrade the quality of the contents. Indeed my experience is that very few people can consistently identify more than one or two whiskies by taste and it may be that this blend will represent a whole new taste experience for whisky lovers. After all, Scots are masters of the art of malt whisky.
Michael Paterson, Canada

Might I suggest that Diageo take a leaf out of Coca-Cola's marketing handbook. They could then call the blend "The New Cardhu" and the single malt would become "Cardhu Classic"! For me I will not be buying any Cardhu due to its corrupted nature and will stick to traditional singles.
Jon Williams, Canada

Changing a brand's integrity, such as that of Cardhu where heritage, pureness and taste of a single malt is central, is misrepresentation and misleading the consumer. Cardhu is a well-established brand with a strong loyal consumer base, who purchase the product for its distinctness and purity. Changing from a single to a pure malt is like taking the Heinz out of Heinz or selling own brand cola as Coka Cola. A single malt is very different to a pure malt, the same taste can not be achieved even if the pure malt blend contains a % of the single malt. From a marketing perspective Diageo would be best to offer Cardhu in selective distribution if the only reason for change is fulfillment of supply and launch a new pure malt with the essence of the Cardhu taste and distinctiveness. This would satisfy all. Alternatively Diageo could invest in the Cardhu distillery to increase production and local employment. Traditional distilleries are few, Cardhu being a fine example.
Lorna Wright, UK

Where do the tears of gods go to when they cry over Scotland? What Diageo is doing is an absolute disgrace. Scotch whisky is like nectar and should be treated as a sacred drink. As a Greek I have always understood that and I am proud that I come from the country that consumes more of it than anyone else in the world - as such we proudly stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our Scottish friends who've given the world this amazing gift. Do not dare to mess up with it, otherwise you will face our wrath.
Yannis, Greece

What a disgrace! Diageo need to have a major re-think, do a complete u-turn and apologise to the industry for devaluing the single malt whisky market before it's too late. If they want to make this product for the Spanish market then they should change the brand name completely and re-label the product accordingly.
Mark, England

The Diageo website has the audacity to say that it champions Scotch whisky, when they are actually laying to rest the prestigious name of Cardhu. This is probably the decision of some accountant who is teetotal and never had a dram before. Cardhu sold well because it was one of the best single malts - now it's nothing more than a blended whisky which would probably need water to make it palatable.
Mary, UK

Cannot say it's a malt, this is against all tradition. This was my favourite, but if this is the case then no more.
Joe Malloch, England

Nice one Diageo. You've created a public-relations disaster for yourselves out of nothing and undermined the integrity of single malts at the same time. That really takes some doing!
Ian, Scotland.

What has Diageo done exactly, other than try to grow the category to suit the consumer taste? There are worse crimes than exporting Scotch to European markets. Something smells sour. Perhaps it is the Glenfiddich? Could our Euro cousins finally have wised up and stoped wasting their euros on it? Seems rather like commercial jealousy to me.
Georgina Gilbert, Scotland

Oh for heaven's sake! Scotland has next to no industry left. Scotch is it. And it seems like Diageo is at least trying to keep this industry going! The Spanish consumer seems to like the pure malt. What do we want? For them to switch to Jack Daniels!
Ian Robertson, UK

If I were Glenfiddich I would be bouncing around the board room for joy - Diageo would be better off giving £500 per day seminars on "How to kill off your market in fell swoop!" Diageo need to decide if they wish Cardhu to viewed as a 'Rolls Royce' or an 'Argos' sort of product. Long live the single malt!
Sally, UK

For once the French have the right idea. We need the equivalent of an Appellation Controlee for Scottish single malt brands.
Simon Richardson, UK

An absolute disgrace and totally unacceptable to those of us who are connoisseurs of the amber elixir. Even when the Japanese won a financial interest in Bowmore of Islay they did not interfere with the product and this must not be allowed to happen in this case. As an honorary "Scotsman" I will fight my corner. Slainte Mhath.
Achmed Ali Al-Mubbarak, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Is Diageo trying to ruin a major part of Scottish heritage? Maybe people should start to boycott Diageo brands and stick with good honest brands such as Glenfiddich and Balvenie great products with a independent Scottish family run business.
Peter Coull, UK

Tony Hunt is right. You can't build up a brand and market share with one product over decades, then change it to something fundamentally different and still retain the name. It's no wonder the general public is confused over the labelling of Scotch whisky if major players in the market indulge in this sort of underhand behaviour.
Doug Strachan, UK

Has anyone tried both products in a blind tasting? Surely that would be the way to settle these arguments. It's all malt whisky isn't it?
Chris, England

Thank God I don't drink that blended rubbish, Cardhu. It's certainly not a malt and the use of the word pure is simply misleading. Kill the Cardhu name and call this blighted blend by some Spanish name.
Paul, UK

According to the report Diageo have changed the designation from single to pure malt and taken out adverts explaining why. Surely Scotland should applaud the fact that Diageo can sell so much of this product that they have found it necessary to take this step. I would have thought that this would increase employment opportunities in Scottish distilleries. I wonder if William Grant have not been selling as much of their products as they would like, perhaps, "the lady doth protest too much, methinks?"
Jon, England

As a retired construction worker who while active on projects worldwide have enjoyed Cardhu, some of which was purchased in the most unlikely of places, I recall at ILO a small fishing town in Peru, I could get my regular and genuine Cardhu at the local market. I believe I did my bit for Scotland by introducing Japanese workmates to the joy of real single malt and know they enjoyed it so much. I have bought Cardhu in Puerto Rico, in Thailand, the USA and Mexico but declined to purchase in India, surviving there on duty-free bought at Dubai. It will be a tragedy if Diageo through greed are allowed to harm the good reputation of single malts.
David Dickie,Scotland

Diageo are biting the hand that feeds them in diluting the name of malt whisky. Incidentally, any fool knows that this new one is a vatted malt and should be described as such. Other producers should take action and consumers whould boycott Diageo's other brands until they backtrack.
Chris Watt, UK

There should be only categories of blended (Bells and the like) and single malts consisting of a whisky from one distillery. My own favourite is Royal Lochnagar and I would not like to see this bastardised as a blend. I am not a snob as far as blends are concerned - some of them have a wonderful flavour and finish and many of the distillieries contribute a majority of their output to the blends. Single malts just maintain the variety and uniqueness of a truly unique British product.
Simon

Preserve the integrity of the single malt. A blended whisky may be fine for a person with no tastebuds or for use in disinfecting horse stalls but do not profane the quality of the sacred single malt. Even if it's only 12 years old, a single malt is naught to be trifled with.
Leary Hebert,Canada

Although Cardhu is not my favorite malt whisky I occasionally bought the product. Not any more. This practice of re-naming a malt whisky as pure instead of single is misleading. If Diageo wish to re-brand the product it should be labelled a vatted malt which is understood by most whisky drinkers as a malt blended from more than one cask.
Alan Leake, England

Maybe it's time to have regional protection and quality standards, like the French and Germans have for regions and grades of wine. Then, if it suits a company to bulk its product with other whiskies, even if from the same area, it would officially fall into a blended category. If we can understand the wine system here, then it would be reasonable to expect that this whisky system would be understood (and appreciated) overseas.
Doug, Scotland

Doug - I think you'll find that Guinness, Tetley's (smooth), Boddingtons and many others have done exactly that - built up a product over centuries, then changed its manufacturing process and kept the name the same. I'm sure washing up liquids, washing powders, soaps, shepherd's pies and so on have all done the same. That doesn't mean this is right, but without an AC or similar, what's to stop them.. apart from consumer reaction, of course?!
Jason, UK

Obviously the Diageo sales and marketing team have spent too much time drinking "alcho-pops" and have destroyed not only their tastebuds but also the Cardhu brand/image. Cardhu is identified with the taste. By mixing various "blends" the product is no longer Cardhu so should not be described as such.
Paul, England

A single malt by defenition is from a single distillery. A mixture of malts is therefore a blended spirit
Colin Duncan, England

Disgraceful. Surely the laws of supply and demand mean that Diageo could have raised the price of the SINGLE malt in Spain as opposed to destroying the brand everywhere else. Scottish whisky is competitive enough that once consumers are aware they will swap to another, and possibly, non Diageo brand.
Stuart, Canada

It's a matter of quality. A single malt is just that. To add different malts makes it a blend, albeit a deluxe whisky, just like other deluxe blends like Chivas Regal.
Jim Moynagh, Scotland

Single malt whisky is one of Britain's greatest products and one of the few we haven't moved to Asia to manufacture cheaply. Blended whisky cannot compare and should never be sold under the same brand as a single malt, thereby devaluing the single malt brand.
Martin, UK

Once again the "corporate machine" - Diageo in this case - demonstrates its inability to retain any integrity when there is revenue at stake! I don't have any gripe with them producing a "pure malt" but this is not the "single malt" so call it Cardhu-II. The reputation of single malt whisky is world renowned and should not be put at risk at any price. The Scotch Industry have to stand up and resist this or we'll be on the slopes to "blends".
John Nairn, UK

So Cardhu is now a blended whisky. I don't think it will survive in that market, not against the likes of 'Bells', Teachers etc. I think this is a commercial mistake and do not expect the product to survive longer term. There only chance is to hit the pub market heavily and try and create a trend for their product. It would be short lived but it would at least provide a peak before the extinction.
Richard Staines, UK

Recognising the value of maintaining a recognised quality standard, producers of other premium products,such as Parma ham and champagne, have vigorously defended their name. Malt whisky producers should take similar action, with the support of government, to protect the value of the malt whisky brand.
Sandy, Scotland

If it's not a Cardhu single malt then it's a different drink and as such should not be marketed under the same brand name. Diageo are attempting to con customers. Different consumers may dislike or prefer the new blend. That is not the issue. They are simply trying to sell a wholy new product on the back of an established and popular product. That is shallow marketing of the basest kind.
Andrew Worgan, UK

Tacky! I found two bottles of Cardhu at my local store here in the US, one single and one pure, both on the the same shelf selling as the same thing.
Steve Vandiver, USA

Single Malt vs Pure Malt. Cardhu needs either to print Pure Malt in large bold red print or stop using Cardhu in the label! Long live Glenfiddich 18 yr, the best single available to me in Arizona with our screwed up import laws. Our laws make me pay tax three times yours.
Glenn E. Bell, USA

I don't think whisky buffs will be fooled, knowing the difference between a "single malt" and a "pure malt" blend. But this product is not for the UK and presumably the foreign markets this is sold in are less clued up about the distinction. I would expect that since it's no longer a single malt that Diageo have cut the price of a bottle, which would be one clue to consumers? As long as they improve the packaging to make it clearer that it is now a blend I don't think this is a big deal.
Scott Allison,Glasgow, Scotland

Like most other products these days, quality and substance is being subsumed in the name of marketing and revenue.
Mike Bidgood, UK

It's a disgrace. I have been buying Cardhu for years and because they can't meet demand they try and flog us something completely different. Normally I would walk into my local whisky shop and buy a bottle without looking at the Cardhu label as I am sure most people living abroad will do - you see the name Cardhu and buy the bottle. If you can't meet demand don't sell a copy and I don't know what the damage to Scotch whisky may be over the next few years but I am sure people will think twice before buying. I certainly will not be buying the new Cardhu, I will have to stick with Lagavullin.
Phil MaGlass,Netherlands

As the brand "Cardhu" is clearly identified as a single malt whisky, to supply anything else under this brand is an affront. Diageo would have been better to add the money they will no doubt be throwing at defending their decision, to their re-marketing budget and created a new and acceptable blended brand. Debasing a fine product like Cardhu should not have been an option.
Alex Hunter,England

Major concern in this move to create a "blend" of malt whiskies. The attraction of single malts is that it comes from one distillery that is what gives it its individuality. This is what distinguishes single malt whisky from brandy, cognac and other "tipples". This drive is probably from non-Scots marketing or accountants, people who obviously do not know what single malt really means. I am sure that most people in Spain etc will not be able to taste the difference, nor even many people in Scotland but this is a move that severely undermines the whole structure of the malt whisky industry. If you buy wine the best bottles will come from a single vineyard as you spread out to the region and then the country the price and quality drops. There is a danger that over time quality will drop as other alleged malts are added to the blend. I doubt very much that Diagio will drop the price! William Grant I remember are not without shame as several years ago after considerable marketing success with Glenfiddich they quietly dropped the age from 12 years to 8 but at least it retained the brand as single malt.
Brian Craven,Scotland

Of course it's outrageous that Diageo should make this change. What they have created is a new blend, which may well be a pleasant product but it certainly isn't Cardhu.
Duncan Hothersall, Scotland

Excellent work Diageo! I can't think of a better way to devalue one of Scotland's best-known exports. This is simply another instance of marketdroid weasel words destroying a reputation that's taken centuries to establish.
Donald, Scotland

This is (was?) one of my favourite drams but if Diageo continue to defile its name in this manner I wont't purchase another drop of it or any other Diageo whisky brand wherever I am in the world.
Alastair Wright, Scotland




SEE ALSO:
Sour taste over whisky switch
27 Oct 03  |  Scotland


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