What Happened to BBC World??

Vast luxy Marriott hotel room with panoramic view of Baku. Plate of stuffed dates and a huge TV with my name on the screen (‘Welcome Anna Blundy…’ etc). I settle down into a white marshmallow cloud of duvets and pillows, stuff a few dates in and start watching BBC World. Now, it’s been a while. Fifteen years of children and scraping egg off the floor with my fingernails, weeping into wine glasses and schlogging musical instruments to and from schools have taken their toll on my…well…mood (and looks) since my last lavish hotel room and BBC World fest.

But increased cantakerousness aside – Jesus CHRIST, what has happened? Didn’t BBC World used to be better than CNN and all those odd French and Russian channels? This is the corporation’s international flagship, Britain’s main representative around the world (apart from the Queen).

I kept thinking it must just be a bad hour of lazy, boring journalism in a depressingly ‘70s format and that, surely, things would soon liven up a bit? There might be an investigative scoop of some kind, some information that hadn’t already appeared on every other kind of media days or even weeks earlier, a programme that showed off some sharp British wit, intelligence and journalistic brilliance. But it never happened.

A lot of exhausted-seeming newsreaders sitting behind (or, worse, perched on the front of) desks, droning out news that sounded as though it had been taken off Reuters, reworded into strange American (international?) English and dumbed down for people who have never heard of abroad.

Look, I know there ARE some brilliant reporters and presenters on BBC World and I was just unlucky that none (neither…?) of them popped up while I was watching in Baku. Mishal Husain and Zeinab Badawi are sharp and experienced interviewers – always challenging, clever, sparkling. [Someone, put them in charge, quick!]

What I did see was, for example, the staggering inanity of a ‘fun!’ item on Norman Cook doing a gig at the House of Commons and (the real low point) a piece about Shakespeare being performed by wooden puppets. Nothing especially wrong with the information in either case, but the style of the whole channel seemed to merge patronising with clueless in an amazing way. Even the graphics look tired and antiquated (perhaps in an effort to look authoritative and reliable?).

As far as real news is concerned there were correspondents standing around saying ‘here I am’ (great, lucky you) without providing any more insight into the news story in question than had already been regurgitated by the anchor. Then there were longer items in which the correspondent interviews some locals and/or goes for some ‘look at these funny people over here’ documentary-style angle [i.e. ‘I am on a free holiday in a faintly alien culture.’].

I was trained to do pieces to camera twenty years ago in Moscow by someone from CNN (I was hopeless – nowhere close to BBC World standard, I admit) and she said; ‘Think of the stupidest American you know.’ She herself was American and highly intelligent. ‘Then explain to him what’s going on here in language he will understand. You have twenty to thirty seconds,’ she said. Example: ‘Russia has been Communist for 70 years. Now they are having an election. Former Communist Boris Yeltsin looks set to win.’ She also gave me scriptwriting training. ‘Say what you’re going to say, then say it, then say what you just said.’ Example: ‘Exit polls show that X looks set to win the election here in X [where I am staying in a very nice hotel, thank you]. So far, 58% of votes counted have been for X. All the indicators suggest that the population of X will soon be governed by X.’

Pretty much everyone on BBC World is following the above tips. They have also incorporated all the ghastly American TV language like ‘set to’, ‘ahead of,’ ‘jetting off’, ‘the bard’ (at every opportunity), ‘penned,’ ‘stepped out…’ I could (and often do) go on and on.

The whole channel is without life or energy, a bad mock-up of CNN (which is saying something), programmes called things like ‘Click’ and ‘Global’ and lots of words like ‘focus’, ‘insight,’ ‘impact.’  Also, an enormous amount of business news and coverage that doesn’t contain much news and covers nothing not already covered to death.

Aren’t there young, independent and dynamic journalists all over the world, desperate to put together groundbreaking, investigative packages for the BBC? There is something sooooo lazy about the look of the whole BBC World product, the lack of real investigations, the banality of most of the content. Of course the channel has to be sensitive to the worldwide audience, but there must be a better way to showcase Britain and its journalists than this generally shoddy offering of tedious, repetitive and mainly contentless television.






About Anna Blundy

Honorary psychotherapist with a Masters in Psychoanalytic Theory and another in Psychodynamic Clinical Psychotherapy. Novelist - Author of the Faith Zanetti quintet - The Bad News Bible, Faith Without Doubt, Neat Vodka (US - Vodka Neat), Breaking Faith, My Favourite Poison. Also a memoir of my father, Every Time We Say Goodbye and my most recent thriller - The Oligarch's Wife
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6 Responses to What Happened to BBC World??

  1. Teri says:

    You left out my personal cringe “these ones”. I hear it at least 4x a day when I watch BBC.

  2. Anna Minton says:

    BBC World became part of BBC Worldwide, the ‘commercial arm’ of the BBC. That’s why it’s crap. I remember when it used to be good too. It’s sad. Shows how important public interest status of BBC is.

  3. pete says:

    Its not so much a matter of ‘public interest’ but perhaps an indication of just how parochial the British have become. And when that happens then ‘our view’ as projected by BBC World is infected with the same indifference, tiredness, whatever. The citizens of the UK used to be the world’s great travellers whereas now British kids in school can barely speak English, never mind another language. And they dont travel, cant travel.
    All that’s left is the arrogance displayed by football supporters who use the ‘if you speak loud enough the foreigners will understand you’ technique. This increasing parochialism is also reflected by our foolish desire to leave the EU rather than to get stuck in to the project and change it from within. And reflected by the increasing tendency of government to appoint non-entities to the post of Foreign Secretary. Look at the extraordinary list of statesmen who occupied the post and then think ‘How on EARTH did Britain end up with that caravan-owning nerd Margaret Beckett just a year or two back’. So if this is our view of a world where other countries and their school-kids are engaging more and more whilst ours engage less and less, then is it any wonder that BBC World is past its sell-by date?

  4. MA BELKNAP says:

    BBC Papers Review Friday 27 Sept.

    Never heard of you before but you were so bad I had to watch again at 11:30 pm to make sure had not imagined it was so bad. How on earth did you get a slot on BBC? You seem to know nowt about owt and your book sales are just about zilch.
    You should watch it back for a good laugh… really was pathetic and an insult to the word ‘review’.


    • Anna Blundy says:

      Sorry not to have replied earlier. I only just saw this!

      Aw…it’s rather sweet in the end. Seems bizarrely aggressive in the saddest way at first, but then one realises that you watched twice AND went to all the trouble to look up book sales! That’s ever such dedicated trolliness. There must be awards for that.

      Anyway, glad you were entertained! That’s what it’s all about.

      All the very best,


  5. Francis says:

    BBC World has to be the most boring and repetitive TV channel in the world (barring North Korean TV, perhaps). And the most boring of this boring channel is definitely “breaking news” – it’s a quite numbing experience! The only decent thing I saw this month on BBC World was something on Stradivarius fiddles and even that was frequently interrupted by the most saccharine adverts about far eastern investments. Some of the accents of the presenters are not just confusing to my English language students – they are to me… Furthermore, the channel is also head-ache inducing with the loudest sound –intros to its “programmes”! I’m so glad that this morning I can’t even get the bloody thing since it seems to have disappeared from my channel list. Great! Anyway, if I really want to watch UK TV all I need to do is Google filmon and hitch my TV screen via the HDMI link on my laptop watch the latest episode of East Enders, if I want to.

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