Why we need the BBC: an impartial voice in times of crisis

1 April 2022

BBC News has long been the UK’s must trusted news source, providing accurate and reliable information to a global audience of 489 million a week. During times of crisis, millions turn to it for dependable broadcasting. Its response to  Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been no different, bringing updates from the conflict not only to audiences in the UK but also across the globe. 

Bectu members critical to delivering news from Ukraine  

On 24 February when Russian forces invaded Ukraine, 20 million UK adults tuned into the BBC for information on the conflict, with 23 million visiting the BBC News website. In the last week of February, 200 million people around the world turned to the BBC World’s Services digital news in languages other than English. 

 In the weeks leading up to the invasion, the BBC had been increasing its coverage of the developing situation. Bectu members were critical to establishing the BBC’s broadcasting presence in Ukraine and have continued to play a vital role in delivering news from the conflict.  

Location engineer and Bectu member James White was sent out at the end of January to set up an office and TV studio in Kyiv. On 20 February, Ian Jonas, another location engineer and Bectu member, was sent to join James and set up the BBC’s main base for presentation.  

Despite starting off on the roof terrace, the air raid sirens and imminent bombs forced James and Ian to move somewhere safer, with James reporting “there were several times when we had to broadcast from the basement because the sirens were going and there were attacks from Russian artillery in this area.” They were forced to broadcast live from an iPhone that went straight to the BBC’s main servers, and work with LED lights about the size of a matchbox. James and Ian’s commitment to broadcast safe and reliable news, despite being under such dangerous conditions, is extremely commendable – I am proud to have such dedicated Bectu members.   

We commend all Bectu members and crew who are supporting news teams covering the conflict, and pay tribute to all media workers risking their safety to show the world what is happening in Ukraine. 

Other news outlets have called BBC staff’s bravery in such a hostile environment “a compelling reminder of the value of the BBC as a trusted news provider” and BBC presenters and correspondents have joined in praise for the teams behind the camera. 

Delivering trusted, impartial news 

It is the BBC’s public service remit and its funding model, as well as its size and multiplatform reach, that enables the broadcaster to respond so quickly and efficiently to global crises. Its plethora of services across TV and radio, both at a national and local level, mean that the BBC’s output can be accessed globally.   

Earlier this month, the BBC announced that it was putting out daily half-hour news bulletins free of charge to broadcasters who are members of the European Broadcasting Union, increasing access to its output further. BBC News also launched TikTok accounts exclusively dedicated to videos about the war, both in Russian and in English. You wouldn’t get this from a Netflix subscription. 

Stepping up to deliver  

In the first week of the conflict, the audience of the BBC’s Russian language news site increased from 3.1 million to 10.7 million, demonstrating how, in a country dominated by state-owned channels broadcasting regime propaganda, the BBC is turned to as a trusted source of impartial news.  

Upon learning that a Russian missile had damaged Kyiv’s television tower, knocking out internet and transmission services, the BBC immediately stepped up to broadcast shortwave transmissions so that anyone with a transfer radio in Ukraine, Russia or Belarus could listen to reliable and impartial updates. 

This commitment to ensuring people always have access to news that matters echoes what we saw throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, when  the BBC’s local and national presence provided essential public health updates during an unparalleled and unprecedented global crisis.  

84% of adults relied on the BBC for updates every day, and 34.6 million tuned in each week to Radio live programming, with hyper-local radio stations such as BBC Burnley and BBC Wolverhampton being set up to provide extra local content and interactivity. BBC output kept people across the country connected, not to mention the educational service it provided through BBC Bitesize, becoming Britain’s largest classroom overnight. 

Unique offering under threat 

The BBC’s unique ability to respond and adapt to crises is under threat by proposals to end the licence fee funding. 

Despite numerous attempts to undermine the licence fee, no one has yet proposed an alternative that would safeguard the BBC’s global contribution and huge national and local output. The BBC is more than a licence fee, and its honest reporting in Ukraine and successful work in overcoming censorship shows us just how much we need the world’s finest public service broadcaster.  

In a world of fake news and misinformation, BBC News is an essential soft power asset. Its current remit and licence fee model has allowed the BBC to inform, entertain and educate millions, and generate the most diverse and wide-ranging broadcasting output out of any public service broadcaster in the world. 

Read our Stage Screen and Radio story about the BBC in Ukraine.

Read the Spring 2022 edition of the magazine here (members only).

Add your voice to our petition calling on the government to retain the licence fee and to allow it to increase in line with inflation.

Photo courtesy BBC – Lyse Doucet, Ian Jonas (left) and James White (right) and their BBC colleagues in Kyiv.