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Vlastimil Tejnora

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December 2012

BBC World Service celebrates 80th Anniversary

 

The BBC World Service began as the BBC Empire Service in 1932 as a shortwave service aimed principally at English speakers in the outposts of the British Empire. This position was stated by King George V in his first Christmas Message by saying that the „men and women, so cut off by the snow, the desert, or the sea, that only voices out of the air can reach them.“ First hopes for the Empire Service were low. The Director General, Sir John Reith (later Lord Reith) said in the opening programme: „Don’t expect too much in the early days; for some time we shall transmit comparatively simple programmes, to give the best chance of intelligible reception and provide evidence as to the type of material most suitable for the service in each zone. The programmes will neither be very interesting nor very good.“This address was read out five times as it was broadcast live to different parts of the world.

On 3 January 1938, the first foreign language service, Arabic, was launched. German programmes commenced on 29 March 1938 and by the end of 1942 broadcasts were being made in all major European languages. As a result, the Empire Service was renamed the BBC Overseas Service in November 1939, and a dedicated BBC European Service was added in 1941. These broadcasting services, financed not from the domestic licence fee but from government grant-in-aid (from the Foreign Office budget), were known administratively as theExternal Services of the BBC.

The External Services gained a special position in international broadcasting during the Second World War, as an alternative source ofnews for a wide range of audiences, especially those in enemy and occupied territories who often had to listen secretly. George Orwellbroadcast many news bulletins on the Eastern Service during World War II.The German Service played an important part in the propaganda war against Nazi Germany.

By the end of the 1940s the number of languages broadcast had expanded and reception had improved following the opening of a relay in modern day Malaysia and of the Limassol relayCyprus, in 1957. On 1 May 1965 the service took its current name of BBC World Service and the service itself expanded its reach with the opening of the Ascension Island relay in 1966, serving African audiences with greater signal and reception, and the later relay on the Island of Masirah.

In August 1985, the service went off the air for the first time when workers striked in protest at the British government‘s decision to ban a documentary featuring an interview with Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin. The External Services were renamed under the BBC World Service brand in 1988.