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Diniacopoulos BBC World News Collection

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The Diniacopoulos/BBC News Collection was donated to the University and is housed in the CCBS.  The project involved, first, the archiving and dubbing of off line tape recordings to CD-rom of 8,700 hours of WS (Radio) News programs, broadcast on short wave.   Our research confirmed that these were the only copies of these programs (BBC had only some fifty of the 9,000).   Howard Fink met with BBC officials in London and gathered the original BBC index of programmes, and recorded interviews giving background information on the principles, organization, and procedures of production of these programs, during the significant 16-year period of the tapes.  The project enables comparative research into these programs, renowned for their objectivity and comprehensiveness, relative to treatment of the same significant news by other comparable national broadcasters. The dubbing project was completed in 2002.  Howard Fink’s published comparative analysis of the BBC and the US TV coverage of the Falklands war was the first research use of these BBC materials.   Five research scholarships were subsequently awarded to graduate students for work on these materials. Three public lectures were also organized.

The Diniacopoulos BBC Radio World News Project (2000-2008)

Professor Greg Nielsen (Sociology), Director of the Centre, was the overall Coordinator of the Project. Distinguished Emeritus Professor Howard Fink (Literature), the Centre’s Head of Archives, was Manager of the dubbing project, and its Technical Manager was Roger des Ormeaux.

Description of the BBC Tape Archive

The BBC World News Project is based on the BBC News/Diniacopoulos Collection in the Centre for Broadcasting Studies at Concordia University.   It consists of over 2100  reel-to-reel audio tapes--some 8400 hours--on which the late Professor Denis Diniacopoulos (Concordia, Communications) recorded the daily transmissions of the BBC World Service English Network Radio News, for sixteen years from 1970 to 1986. 

These 8400 hours of audio tape were dubbed to digital CD-R in WAV format, suitable for replaying from a computer CDROM bay.  2100 4-hour reels have been CD-R-mastered, and copies made for playback and research purposes.  Each CD-R is identified by the dates of the news broadcasts it contains.

These tapes were donated to the University, to be housed in the Centre, by the late professor’s family, who added funding for the Project:  first of all, for the preservation of the delicate old tapes by dubbing them digitally onto CDs; then for an annual lecture series in the area; also substantial annual scholarships and graduate fellowships in the same area. There are no detailed indexes of the contents of each CD-R; but the Centre has obtained copies of the BBC’s own annual Indexes to World Service News Reports for the whole period of the tapes, which will serve as an efficient instrument of access to the Collection, enabling researchers to identify the chronological locations on  the CD-Rs of the reports which they have identified by subjects and dates (each tape is already identified by the dates of its broadcasts). These indexes are organized by years, and within years by two main headings: the first is by subjects; the second is by persons in the news (“biographies”).  For each subject or biographical heading, all the WS written news reports are listed chronologically, with the title and date of each report indicated.   Once the exact date of a desired report has been established, it is only necessary to find the CD with that date, and search in it for the audio report wanted.  It is probable that   the audio broadcast version every written report of any importance will be found on the Centre’s digital CD-R News record of the same date.  Both the audio records (as they are dubbed and copied ) and the indexes are available for bona fide researchers, to be used in the Centre. 

The usual copyright restrictions apply:  a bona fide researcher may request audio copies of the records, of normal reasonable length, upon the written permission of the BBC, and for specific stated purposes.  And if these purposes include any commercial rebroadcast or publication of any portion of these BBC archives, a BBC-defined fee as well as written BBC permission will be required.

A Historical Record of the Standards of Public Broadcast News

The BBC World Service collection is a unique record of world events--for even the BBC itself has saved only a minimal 57 hours of the total of 8500 hours archived in our Centre for this 17-year period.   Diniacopoulos’s choice of the BBC WS news over other news sources reveals his awareness of the quite unique quality of BBC World News, and its unique function as a purveyor of rigorous journalistic standards in  reporting.   We shall attempt to explain the basis for the BBC’s deserved reputation for news broadcasting:  honest, fair, balanced and comprehensive.  Additional explanations of the strong journalistic culture and the conscious policies behind such objective broadcasting, are found in the BBC interviews recently carried out by Professor Howard Fink, of which more below. But first, some remarks on the nature and purposes of other contemporary radio and television news, particularly over private, commercial broadcasting channels, will provide some comparisons with the BBC World News’ practice and help to clarify its reputation.

Stuart Ewen has spoken revealingly about the goals and practices of commercial news broadcasting in his volume on modern media, All Consuming Images (Harper Collins), written in 1988, when Diniacopoulos had scarcely finished his BBC News recording task.   In his Conclusion to this volume, Ewen calls modern commercial “news” programs “info-tainment”, that is, the use of the ‘news program’ format to entertain audiences.  Info-tainment , he feels, is becoming more and more necessary as continued funding for such programs depends more centrally on audience ratings.  And the resultant manipulations of the news are more dangerous as their entertainment goals are hidden behind the very form of the traditional news reports from which they originate. Ewen explains:

As access to coherent information has ebbed, even those agencies that claim to provide the public with knowledge and information about the world we inhabit have become increasingly stylised.  As style becomes information, information becomes style....   Nowhere is this trend more evident than in television news.... From opening logo to sign-off, all information, all stories are filtered through a veil of appearances....  Over and above this play of appearances, the truth is continually subjected to the forces of the marketplace... the news program must weigh its informational responsibilities against its ability to attract a large ‘market share’ of the audience.   In the process information devolves into info-tainment.  (p. 264)

This description of commercial news provides a revealing contrast with the goals and practices of the BBC World News.  And Ewen continues his description:

In the use of edited news footage, a story is constructed to provide a dramatic impact with strong visual effect, even if this comes at the expense of deeper understanding.  ‘Bites’ taken from longer interviews are selected for... suggesting that the person has finished what he or she has been saying, and that what you are seeing is all that there is to be seen....  Within such a stylistic environment, the news is beyond comprehension....  The interconnections of facts, their actual relations within the world, are never developed…. (p. 265)

Ewen is speaking here about television of the ‘eighties, and he points out that the substitute for substance was visual style and images.  Nevertheless, a similar comparison may be made with the practice of commercial radio news, with its “sound-bites” replacing comprehensiveness and organization.  Even more significant,  the most revealing comparison with the BBC Radio News was commercial television, in the ‘seventies and ‘eighties when radio’s earlier functions as the senior broadcasting (and advertising) service were not yet completely lost, and the BBC WS Radio News was in direct competition with television news.

By contrast with commercial broadcasting news, the BBC World Service has maintained for more than sixty years the principles and culture of truth, even-handedness, comprehensiveness, and freedom from individual, commercial or state interference, in the reporting and commenting on world-wide news.  The World Service news has long represented a standard in the application of these objective principles, against which the practices of privately owned news purveyors may be assessed.  It seems in retrospect, and with the growing phenomenon of news manipulation, that Diniacopoulos, simply wishing to preserve an objective record of world events over the ‘seventies and ‘eighties, was remarkably prescient—what he, as professor of communications, and as student of broadcasting, simply assumed, was that such an objective record would become more and more valuable as broadcasting practice moved further and further away from this  standard.  That is, Diniacopulos’ persistent news-dubbing had two clear purposes:  to record the truth (as he saw it in the BBC broadcasts), and to help that truth to survive as a witness against the practices of many current commercial news broadcasts, in which the strongest motivation underlying the presentation of the news had become audience commodities.  

History of the BBC World Service from 1935 to 1970

We now turn to the more specific ways in which the WS News achieved and retained its well-known objectivity and comprehensiveness, and its reputation for these qualities and to clarify how the World Service News accomplished the kind of objective broadcasting so valued by Diniacopoulos.  The BBC, founded in 1922 by radio-manufacturing interests (like NBC), did not change from the “Company” to the nationalized “Corporation” until several years later.  It was very quickly drawn into the crisis of the 1926 General Strike. The BBC administration shared the Government view that the “strike was a threat to the Constitution,” and while the Government applied no censorship pressure, the BBC censored itself by reporting nothing which might help the strikers. The BBC Chairman, Lord Gainford, took the position that “any steps we may take to communicate the truth dispassionately should be to the advantage of the government,” thus preserving both the BBC’s press freedom and its responsibility to the people—in the form of their duly elected government.  The BBC rigorously adopted the concepts of press freedom and objectivity very early on as crucial elements in its creation of the news.  This position is partly explained by the fact that the majority of BBC News staff had come from print journalism, imbued with this press-freedom culture;   print journalism continued as the major source of BBC News personnel until at least the early ‘nineties.

During the lengthy and severe European crises of the 1930s, leading up to and including World War II, the BBC similarly protected its press freedom, with a similar sense of national and social responsibility.  As BBC Managing Director John Reith said, envisaging a wartime role for the BBC:  “It is essential that the responsibility and reliability of the BBC’s News Service should be established beyond doubt, even though in practice accuracy did not amount to more than the nearest approach to absolute truth permitted by the overriding war conditions including [self-] censorship.”   By the mid-thirties the BBC’s broadcasting mandate was broadened, by the addition of the overseas Empire Service to members of the British Commonwealth.  And by 1938 BBC was also broadcasting abroad to some of the foreign countries that had been receiving Nazi radio propaganda since the early ‘thirties.  None of the BBC’s Services was ever formally taken over, or even formally censored by the government during WW II, and whatever self-censorship was practiced by the BBC was strongly tempered not only by the principles of press freedom, but also by a joint understanding of the BBC and the Government that the reporting of news, both good and disastrous, was important, because it predisposed listeners—domestic and foreign--to have faith in the credibility and reliability of what was being reported, during those times when it was crucial for them to believe the BBC’s news.  And this policy, and the press freedom it ensures, were practiced right through the period of the tapes—continuing to this day.

At the opening of WW II hostilities, the World Service was hived off from the Domestic Service of the BBC.  The whole of the World Service was moved out of Broadcasting House to its own quarters (eventually Bush House), where it began to operate independently.  It had its own managers, editors, correspondents, news writers and readers, and translators for foreign-language broadcast of the news—and for all this the BBC (itself financed by users’ licence fees) no longer paid the costs.  The WS budgets were fully assumed by the Foreign Office, in the form of grants-in-aid negotiated by the WS with the FO annually.  These administrative arrangements lasted until the early ‘nineties, and parallel budget arrangements exist to this day.  Nevertheless, the World Service has retained its arms-length independence from the Foreign office, which, in the five-decade history of the WS, has hardly ever interfered in any way, either with WS editorial, personnel or management decisions, or in the content of the News. Of course there were many confrontations with the Foreign Office over this period, but the senior Management of the WS has continued to protect their staff’s press independence.

    Source archives:  BBC News/Diniacopoulos Collection:  8400 hours of BBC World Service News, transcribed by the late Professor Denis Diniacopoulos from the BBC North American Service at least once daily, from 1970 to 1986.  Original archives on reel-to-reel audio tape, being dubbed to CD*.  

   Access:  approximate 2100 4-hour *digital CD-Rs in WAV form, suitable for playback on computer CD-R players.  Access only by permission, to bona fide researchers. 

The usual archival restrictions apply, including copyright restrictions:   copyright in contents resides with the BBC, who must give written permission for copies (of the usual reasonable size) to be released for research.  BBC also requires permission  (and their fee) for any commercial broadcast or publication of these files.

    Indexes:   BBC World Service News Reports Indexes, on reel-to-reel microfilm:  by subjects and by persons, chronological with titles and dates of individual Reports.

    Background:  a growing number of interviews with senior BBC World Service staff, on the history, policies and personnel of the WS.

    Location:  Centre for Broadcasting Studies, Samuel Bronfman House, 1590 Dr Penfield, Concordia University, (514) 848-7719.


 
 

Concordia University