From the July 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard
The BBC enjoys, probably justly, the reputation of being the most “respectable”, honest and impartial broadcasting organization in the world. As such, a global audience tunes in to its programmes in many languages which go out around the clock.
Having said that, a comparatively short article in The Guardian of 16th May 1974 explains just what, within the context of capitalism, such a reputation for honesty and impartiality means.
The article dealing with the proposed cuts in expenditure on overseas broadcasting is, most aptly, entitled “A business ally in jeopardy”. About half-way through comes the first really significant paragraph:
The BBC World Service means a lot of things to many people. One of its lesser known activities, however, is the influence it has on Britain’s exports.
This ally of British manufacturers broadcasts a variety of programmes expounding the achievements of British industry and technology. Mr. G. E. Mansell, Managing Director of the BBC’S External Services, is quoted as saying:
We not only mention British Science, technology, industry and exports, but we report any noteworthy achievements in these fields on our world news bulletins, on Radio Newsreel and the various magazine and specialist programmes we broadcast.
Also, when British overseas exhibitions and promotions are mounted, the BBC foreign language services usually broadcast programmes on the event and the companies and products involved. Later Mr. Mansell states:
The very existence of a British broadcasting service which is respected everywhere for its efficiency and integrity reflects well on the efficiency and integrity of the UK and helps to create a favourable climate for the British exporter.
Enquiries resulting from these programmes are passed straight to the manufacturers. That this has proved vastly profitable to the latter can be seen from the following.
In 1973 BBC External Services received 300,000 enquiries from all over the world. 4,500 of these were generated by just one programme “New Ideas”. A “News from Britain” broadcast in Japanese brought 1,000 enquiries. From a BBC survey of 300 companies, 49 per cent, reported enquiries directly resulting from broadcasts; some had as many as 200. One company, Halden Engines, stated that they were over-run (our emphasis) with enquiries after mention on the German and World Services. Their order books for 2-stroke engines are full and they plan to open a new factory to meet the increased demand.
Today the External Services broadcast approximately 100 hours a day in 40 languages and BBC statistics show that they have 60 million regular (daily!) listeners and a further 72 million tune in occasionally.
Some time ago we saw a lot of posters proclaiming “It pays to advertise”. Obviously it is even more profitable if the most respected broadcasting corporation in the world will do it for you; not just without charge, but without even being asked to do so!