(Reuters) – The BBC World Service will begin broadcasting in 11 additional Asian and African languages and will boost content aimed at its Russian audience in its biggest expansion since the 1940s, the BBC said on Wednesday.
The World Service started out in 1932 as a radio channel for English speakers in the British empire, but has morphed over the decades into a highly respected global provider of news and quality programmes in English and dozens of other languages.
The expansion is a result of a major funding injection announced by the government last year as part of a drive to boost Britain’s “soft power”.
“This is a historic day for the BBC, as we announce the biggest expansion of the World Service since the 1940s,” said BBC Director General Tony Hall. “The BBC World Service is a jewel in the crown – for the BBC and for Britain.”
The additional African languages will be Afaan Oromo, spoken in Ethiopia and other countries, Amharic, also a major Ethiopian language, Tigrinya, the main language of Eritrea, and Nigerian languages Igbo, Yoruba and Pidgin, which are also spoken in other West African countries.
The World Service will also add Indian languages Gujarati, Marathi and Telugu, as well as Punjabi which is widely spoken in Pakistan and parts of India, and Korean, spoken in both North and South Korea.
The BBC will also extend its news bulletins in Russian, with regionalised versions for surrounding countries, add regional programming in Arabic and short-wave and medium-wave radio programmes aimed at audiences in the Korean peninsula.
“Through war, revolution and global change, people around the world have relied on the World Service for independent, trusted, impartial news,” said Fran Unsworth, director of the World Service.
Hall has set a target for the BBC to reach 500 million people worldwide by its centenary in 2022.