Funding boost will see BBC World Service broadcast news programmes in North Korea
The BBC World Service is to launch regular news programmes in North Korea as part of the biggest expansion of its journalism since the 1940s.
Korean is one of 11 new language services included in proposals designed to double the number of people who can access BBC services around the world to 500 million by 2022, when the World Service will be 100 years old.
The plans, financed by a £289 million funding boost from the British government in 2015, are likely to cause controversy in several places where the ruling power may not welcome the BBC’s offer of “independent journalism”, including Russia and North Korea.
The BBC’s plans, which focus on its links to “democracy and the free press”, come after state-sponsored rivals such as Al-Jazeera and RT (previously Russia Today) have expanded into the UK.
Tony Hall, director general of the broadcaster, called the announcement “a historic day for the BBC”.
“The BBC World Service is a jewel in the crown – for the BBC and for Britain. As we move towards our centenary, my vision is of a confident, outward-looking BBC which brings the best of our independent, impartial journalism and world-class entertainment to half a billion people around the world. Today is a key step towards that aim.”
With echoes of cold war transmissions – when the BBC, Voice of America and Radio Free Europe broadcast into the Soviet Union and countries of the Warsaw pact – the plans announced on Wednesday will lead to extended news bulletins and a relaunched website in Russian, as well as daily radio programmes aimed at audiences in the Korean peninsula. Much more online content and on social media will also be produced.
Some diplomats have argued that the BBC’s plans to compete against Kim Jong-un’s state-sponsored media for North Korea’s 25 million people will cause tension. A number of foreign broadcasters already target the country, including South Korea’s KBS and the US-funded Voice of America and Radio Free Asia.
With the first of the new services to launch in 2017, the new output will target younger people and women in particular. Francesca Unsworth, director of the World Service, said: “Through war, revolution and global change, people around the world have relied on the World Service for independent, trusted, impartial news. As an independent broadcaster, we remain as relevant as ever in the 21st century, when in many places there is not more free expression, but less.”
Other planned services include more than 30 new TV programmes across Africa, more regional programming from BBC Arabic and a video offer in 40 languages.
Languages to be included in the latest expansion include Afaan Oromo, Amharic, Gujarati, Igbo, Korean, Marathi, Pidgin, Punjabi, Telugu, Tigrinya, and Yoruba.
The increase in government funding announced last year came after the BBC was forced to take on the £245m annual cost of the World Service, which had been funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as part of the 2010 licence fee settlement with the government.