Thursday, 26 June 2008

Lots of boxes...all with great material

This is a pile of boxes. So what?

Well, they are one morning's arrivals in the AIB Awards office in the UK - packages of broadcasts submitted to the Awards from organisations throughout the world.

It's great to see so many companies sending in their work - from Taiwan to Germany, Sweden to the UAE, the US to Australia.

There's still time to enter - the deadline is now 18 July. See what the AIB is looking for at

Meanwhile, AIB Executive Officer Alison Seary has to start opening and cataloguing this lot. And tomorrow's. And Mondays...

Friday, 20 June 2008

What shall we do with a drunken sailor...

In fact, no one was drunk but everyone played at being sailors.

Yesterday (Thursday 19th June) I was privileged to be part of the first VT Communications Sailing Challenge. VT Communications (which provides transmission and distribution services for the BBC World Service and an increasing number of broadcasters worldwide) hosted a day of sailing and racing in the Solent - the piece of water off the southern coast of England that separates the Isle of Wight from the mainland.

The party was divided into two groups - team Victor and team Tango (teams VT, geddit?) and after breakfast at the foot of the Spinnaker Tower that dominates the Portsmouth skyline (and in which you can test your vertigo thanks to a glass floor 100m above the ground) we went off to our boats for a safety briefing and a bit of explanation about the way winches, sheets, and all the other bits and pieces of a modern sailing boat, work.

We set off, getting our sails hoisted and tacked over to Cowes on the Isle of Wight where we had a rather tasty (and well-earned) lunch. Then the important bit of the day got underway - a race back to Portsmouth with the two teams pitted against one another as the wind got up.

At first, team Tango - with VT Communications MD Doug Umbers on board (pictured) - stole a lead, at one point almost three boat lengths (and the boats were nearly 70' long). But with some excellent helming by Ruxandra Obreja of the BBC, ably assisted by Josh Sparks of VT, team Victor edged forward (disclosure - I was on the team Victor boat!). At the finishing line, team Victor was ahead by less than half a boat length - and won!

Pure exhilaration all round, and well done to everyone on that boat, comiserations to those on Tango. I helmed it back into Portsmouth, managing to cut through the waves and soak Doug Umbers, Director of Broadcast at VTC - sorry, Doug. Medals all round back at the port, rounding off a truly great day. Thanks to everyone at VTC.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

AIB Awards gather pace

The 2008 AIB Media Excellence Awards are gathering pace, with more and more organisations around the world entering. At the AIB head office we're getting lots of calls from broadcasters throughout the world who are now working on their entries - in the past few days we've had enquiries from Egyptian TV, radio stations in Argentina and Brazil, broadcasters in the USA and the Far East.

All this means that we're going to have a remarkable contest this year with more entries than ever before. We've been asked by some entrants if we can extend the deadline for submissions, and we're responded by moving the closing date from 30 June to 19 July 2008. We hope this helps!

It's also encouraging that there's still excellent feedback coming in from last year's Awards and the gala evening we ran at Clothworkers' Hall in the City of London to present the prizes. Nigel Chapman, Director of BBC World Service, said to me on Monday evening that he's keen to attend this year as he'd heard really good things about the event and wanted to see for himself. That's great - so why not enter today? See

A humbling moment

Monday night saw a gathering in London that, without wishing to sound hackneyed, was unique. The event was the dedication of a light sculpture atop the rebuilt Egton House, part of the BBC's Broadcasting House complex in the heart of the West End.

What was special was the fact that this sculpture, Breathing, was being dedicated to the scores of journalists and news support staff who have lost their lives in reporting the news to the world. The event, co-hosted by the BBC and the International News Safety Institute, brought together senior executives from the BBC and other news gathering organisations, such as UK's ITN (represented by David Mannion and Deborah Turness), as well as people who have suffered at the hands of men of violence, such as Alan Johnston, Frank Gardner, Terry Waite and Brian Keenan. I spoke briefly with Frank who last year, as an old boy, addressed Founders Day at my son's school, St Ronan's in Kent. Despite horrific injuries, he still works long hours as the BBC's security correspondent and on Monday had been reporting the heightened terrorist threat in the UAE.

The guest of honour was Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General, who unveiled the sculpture at 2145 BST, sending a beam of light high up into the night sky above London. He spoke of the need to ensure journalists and others working in news gathering are afforded protection as they strive to bring the truth to people throughout the world. The UN has become heavily involved in the issue of news safety in the world of journalism and the organisation is to be congratulated for supporting the work of INSI and journalists worldwide.

Then John Simpson, the BBC's World Affairs editor movingly read the poem by war correspondent James Fenton whose words are inscribed on the sculpture:

We spoke, we chose to speak of war and strife –

a task a fine ambition sought –

and some might say, who shared our work, our life:

that praise was dearly bought.

Drivers, interpreters, these were our friends.

These we loved. These we were trusted by.

The shocked hand wipes the blood across the lens.

The lens looks to the sky.

Most died by mischance. Some seemed honour-bound

to take the lonely, peerless track

conceiving danger as a testing ground

to which they must go back

till the tongue fell silent and they crossed

beyond the realm of time and fear.

Death waved them through the checkpoint. They were lost. All have their story here.

It was a moving, and humbling, occasion and I was honoured to be there.

Monday, 16 June 2008

The week ahead

It's Monday morning and the sun is shining here in South-East England, which makes for a much more pleasant working mood than when the weather is dismal!

It's going to be a busy week. In the office, we're working on the latest edition of The Channel, the AIB's print magazine. We're also ringing round producers, editors, journalists and PR people, reminding them about this year's AIB Awards. With only a few weeks until the Awards close, we're getting enquiries from all over the world - on Friday, calls came in from Argentina, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and the USA, demonstrating the global nature of the AIB Media Excellence Awards.

This week also has a good deal of socialising and networking. Tonight (Monday) it's off the Broadcasting House in central London for the unveiling of Breathing, a light sculpture. On Wednesday, it's the All Party Parliamentary Group Summer Reception at Channel 4's London HQ and on Thursday VT Communications have kindly invited me to a day's sailing on the south coast of England.

So it's back to work...

Friday, 13 June 2008

Worrying news from the UAE

I'm very concerned about reports coming from the UAE that GEO TV has been given 48 hours to leave Dubai where it produces a good deal of programming for its audiences in Pakistan. It seems that the Dubai authorities have said GEO will lose its licence to operate in Dubai if it does not take two programmes off the air. Capital Talk and According to Me are the two programmes identified as being at the root of the problem.

This isn't the first time GEO has suffered in Dubai. During the state of emergency imposed late last year, GEO was told to stop broadcasting from the UAE. At the time GEO said that it would relocate its international operations to Hong Kong if the UAE government continued to hassle it. I suspect the move may come sooner than later.

My concern is that many international broadcasters are moving all or part of their production facilities to other countries - the BBC World Service is moving many of its Hindi- and Urdu-language staff to India and Pakistan, for example - and this means that pressure can be exerted locally to force "unwelcome" programming to be dropped. Responding to a letter in this week's edition of Ariel, the BBC staff newspaper, Behrouz Afagh, head of the World Service Asia-Pacific region, said: "As for the BBC partnership in Pakistan, our editorial independence and integrity is not and was never under any threat, and our FM bulletins are going out live now, in any case." He's confident there's no problem. Perhaps this latest news from Dubai will cause a reassessment of the situation.

Dinner at the FT

Last night (12 June) I was delighted to be at the headquarters of the Financial Times in London for the first of the FT's TMT Executive Forum dinners. During a champagne reception, Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson, the FT's Media Editor, interviewed Antti Öhrling, co-founder of Blyk. Blyk is an advertising-funded mobile network that targets 16-25 year olds, offering free or discounted mobile calls in return for targeted, relevant advertising being received by the subscriber. It's already up and running in the UK, where around 150,000 people have signed up for the service. Now the company is heading into the Netherlands, and then into other European territories. Antti is a man with a mission, and he's able to explain his company's offer in a thoroughly engaging and entertaining way. I think that Blyk is a company to watch.
Then it was into dinner in the board room overlooking the River Thames, watching the sun set across London (a glorious evening after a day of highly changeable weather), with good food and great company. Among those I met were Mukul Gupta of Infosys, John Higgins, D-G of the UK tech trade association, Intellect, Giuuseppe Cardamone of online advertising company Monster, and Shoba Purushothaman, co-founder of The News Market.
A great evening, and well done to the FT.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Disappearing radio name, but it seems it's for the good

If you've been following the sale of the national UK commercial radio station Virgin Radio to Times Infotainment Media, you'll perhaps have realised that the Virgin Radio name is to disappear later this year.

Is this good or bad? For radio listeners who, whatever their age, find change disturbing when it comes to their favourite radio station, it could be bad news. For the rest - including the new owners who run fast-developing radio businesses in India - it could be good.

You can read more about the changes taking place in three blogs: (from ex-Virgin employee James Cridland); (from the new owners of Virgin Radio)
and here: (from a current Virgin staffer).

The AIB's latest member-only market intelligence briefing looks at this development in more detail, as well as providing background information on an Indian media start-up that's looking for involvement from Western broadcasters.

Friday, 6 June 2008

What a difference a day makes

Two major international news channels took very different approaches to spreading the word about themselves this week. On Wednesday 4 June, Euronews held two simultaneous parties in Paris and London to unveil the channel's new corporate identity and on-air look.

I was delighted to be at the London event where senior media executives from Euronews and other broadcasting organisations received the first glimpses of the "pure" new look and saw the first news bulletin at 1830GMT to use the new graphics.

The following day, BBC World News held a press briefing to announce its key achievements of the past year and to unveil its new tri-media strategy. Yet somehow the BBC forgot to invite key journalists from the specialist and trade media who report on stories to the world (including the AIB and a range of colleagues whose online publications reach tens of thousands of readers worldwide), concentrating instead, it seems, on UK-focused journalists. I'm surprised by this approach at a time when the channel claims to have seen an international growth in its audience and increased ad sales revenues. Maybe it was just an oversight...