London Calling Planet Earth: The Radiant Torch of the BBC World Service
J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM)
Thanks to the tireless efforts of a dedicated group of broadcasters, London has firmly established itself as one of planet Earth's most influential global metropolises. From its Bush House offices in Central London, the BBC World Service Radio transmits news in over forty different tongues to every point of the compass. It's an amazing phenomenon that combined with innovative foreign language internet sites is making the UK a growing force in the 21st Century's emerging sense of global community. It is also a radiant torch that non-democratic regimes would love to extinguish.
From the gentle green slopes of Kilimanjaro to the harsh tundra of Siberia, the people of the world can hear London calling across the ether. The incredible range of languages that beam out from Bush House is mind-blowing, stretching from Arabic to Swahili and spanning Hausa to Hindi.
For tens of millions of people in the developing world, especially those living under dictatorial regimes or oppression, the World Service is often their only reliable news source.
Terry Waite, the Beirut hostage who spent 1,763 days in captivity, says the BBC helped him survive the ordeal, "The World Service is extremely important to me. I was so grateful that they were broadcasting virtually 24 hours a day and I was listening to them nearly 23 hours a day."
Nabil Harb, an elderly Lebanese businessman says, "I have been listening to the BBC Arabic service all my life and I trust it much more than local news stations. If I want to know what is really going on, I tune into the BBC."
It is not just ordinary people who rely on the BCC, eminent world figures ranging from Nelson Mandela to the Dalai Lama have confessed to being ardent BBC fans. When former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was put under house arrest during the 1991 Moscow coup, it was the BBC World Service he tuned into to find out what was happening.
Kul Chandra Gautam, Deputy Director of UNICEF, whose native Nepal was the victim of a draconian royal coup in January, explains why the World Service is so often considered a beacon of light to those living under the shadow of oppression, "At a time of severe censorship of the press in Nepal, the BBC Nepali service has been a precious little window to our beleaguered homeland to millions of Nepalis all over the world. Thank you, BBC."
The most recent estimate puts the service's global audience at a staggering 151 million regular listeners, of whom 111 million tune into a foreign language. This amazing achievement has made London the premier global hub for high-quality news information, projecting multiethnic Britain's values of openness and freedom surging around the globe. Tin Htar Swe, head of the Burmese Service, sums up the ethos, "Our aim is to provide ground breaking stories, whether global or regional."
Fact File: BBC World Service radio
* The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) first transmitted outside Britain in December 1932.
* The BBC began its foreign language broadcasts back in 1938 with Arabic and Latin American Spanish transmissions.
* In 1940, the Service moved into Bush House in Central London, which is still the headquarters of today's BBC World Service.
* By the end of the WWII, there were 45 separate language services and the English Service was broadcasting 24 hours a day all around the world.
* The Service is the World's most listened-to international shortwave broadcaster.
* Estimate puts the Service's global audience at a staggering 151 million regular listeners, of whom 111 million tune into a foreign language.
* Today the BBC World Service broadcasts in English and 42 other languages.
* One of the BBC's stated goals is "to be the world's first choice among international broadcasters for authoritative and impartial news and information, trusted for its accuracy, editorial independence and expertise."