International broadcasting remains an important element of soft power diplomacy. Nations want to tell their story to peoples around the world. Those goals remain the same even as the means of telling those stories has changed dramatically.
Aung San Suu Kyi's Reith Lectures were secretly recorded in Burma and smuggled out of the country. After the first lecture was played to an audience at Broadcasting House in London, Ms Suu Kyi joined the audience's discussion via a satellite link from Burma.
The funding, provided over the next three years, is a response to the Arab Spring — the pro-democracy movements that have arisen in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and other Arabic countries.
Lord Patten is adamant that the best way to appreciate the BBC is to go abroad. The last governor of Hong Kong and former European Commissioner said his love of the World Service made protecting it a priority, describing it as “an institution to be proud of”.
To this end so-called “soft power” – the ability to win the battle of ideas not just the war – will become increasingly crucial. Unfortunately the Government is making cuts to institutions such as the BBC World Service and the British Council, which are key assets in our soft power capability.
Al Jazeera’s rise has coincided with a decline at the BBC. Following a reduction in its Foreign Office grant, the corporation is cutting its World Service by 16 per cent, which will reportedly save £46 million a year. Al Jazeera is one of a number of foreign broadcasters lining up to fill the information gap that this leaves behind.
When Lord Patten went before the Commons culture, media and sport select committee last month to lay out his credentials as the new chairman of the BBC Trust, he deliberately alighted on a key issue for programme makers and viewers: whether the BBC has become too risk-averse in its commissioning.