Where does the BBC have bureaux and why?

Journalism.co.uk had been surprised to learn at last month’s Journalism in Crisis event that the BBC used only stringers to cover South America, according to director of news Helen Boaden.

The location of global bureaux ‘is something to do with your colonial past’ she said, adding to comments by BBC director-general Mark Thompson, when he was questioned by an irate audience member on the corporation’s lack of coverage in that part of the world (specifically Latin America).

Audio here:

Does the BBC really have no bureaux in Central and South America? Well, the BBC press office later told Journalism.co.uk, it depends how you define stringers and bureaux.

There is a distinction between ‘newsgathering hub’ bureaux and ‘non-hub’ regional bureaux the BBC spokesperson said. While there are no ‘newsgathering hub bureaux’ in South and Central Americas, there are four regional offices, located in Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Mexico City and Havana. How many in each, Journalism.co.uk asked.

Two in each of the four cities: one producer and one local fixer, both on sponsored stringer contracts with retainers. Other individual stringers cover the rest of the continent other parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, with freelancers working from Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Chile and Jamaica.

It’s an interesting question: where are international news organisations’ bureaux and why? A particularly pertinent one to raise, given the difficulties in accessing material from Iran at the moment. The BBC office in Tehran remains open, but permanent correspondent Jon Leyne has been ordered to leave the country, the corporation reported yesterday.

While the BBC had two producers inside a Gaza office in 2008, it did not have any permanent crew on the ground and this affected its coverage of the crisis at the end of that year, and the early part of 2009.

It was helpful for Al Jazeera to have people already based in Gaza, as its two correspondents told Journalism.co.uk in a live-blog interview in April.

NB: Whether Al Jazeera were the ‘only’ English-language international broadcaster in the area for the 12-day media block is still a bone of contention: a journalist later reminded Journalism.co.uk that his employer, Iranian government-funded Press TV, was also reporting from the region during that period.

8 thoughts on “Where does the BBC have bureaux and why?

  1. Keith Mundy

    The pertinent term here is Latin America, not South America.

    And this is gibberish: “Other individual stringers cover the rest of the continent, including Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Chile and Jamaica”.

    It’s an interesting topic, though. For comparisons, see how many Latin American cities are served directly by British airlines. It’s a handful, literally, i.e. five.

    Both fields illustrate the minor importance Britain gives to Latin America.

  2. Judith Townend Post author

    Thanks for your feedback Keith. I debated whether to use Latin America as this was the term the original questioner specified, but the specific point put to Thompson and Boaden (about halfway through the audio) was how many ‘South American’ bureaux do they have, and this is what I picked up on, rather than on the initial points in the question. I asked the BBC press officer about South and Central America.

    The point on the use of ‘continent’ is a fair one, and will be corrected. These were the places specified as examples by the press office – I shall make that clearer in the text. The spokesman’s full quote: “There are bureaux in Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Mexico City and Cuba. They are staffed by sponsored stringers who are BBC staff on attachment for a 3 year postings. In addition we have regular freelancers in Columbia, Peru, Venezuela, Chile and Jamaica. They are all non hub bureaux.”

  3. Nuria Leon


    My name is Nuria Leon, and I am the Latin American Journalist who made the question to Mark Thompson. I come originally from Ecuador… So you mentioned that ehy have stringers in ‘Colombia, Peru, Venexuela, Chile and Jamaica@ what about Ecuador and the rest countries of Latin America? Did you asked them about this countries and how is their production process with them? Kind Regards. Nuria

  4. Judith Townend Post author

    Hi Nuria,

    I’m really glad you found this as I didn’t manage to speak to you at the event, or get hold of your contact details. I thought it was a great question. As you can see from the comments above, I asked the press office about South/Central America more generally, and these were the only examples given to me:

    – Regional offices (with sponsored fixer and producer): Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Mexico City and Havana
    – Individual stringers: Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Chile and Jamaica

    I’ll follow up and check if these were just examples and if they have additional regulars in the other Latin American countries. Please do drop me an email and keep in touch (judith at journalism.co.uk)

  5. Pingback: The Latin America news gap: what do you think? | Journalism.co.uk Editors' Blog

  6. Artemis Dee

    BBC seems to have no rationality behind bureau placement in the Americas or the US. BBC has no bureau in Brasilia, which is the Brazilian CAPITAL (not Rio or Sao Paulo), nor are there BBC bureaux in Bogata or Medelin, or Lima, or Santiago,or Caracas (albeit a dangerous place). And in the USA, there are BBC bureaux only in New York, DC, and LA. Miami? WHY? There are over 40 bigger US cities than Miami, including Wichita and Albuquerque,as well as CHICAGO. Miami has no more than half a million population. Is it some sort of “Miami Vice” mindset with all the bikinis and whatnot, like LA? Just last night BBC reported on Obama’s shutdown of drilling in the Arctic and Altlantic seaboard. From “Loss Angeleeze”. The policy happens in DC and the energy capital is Houston. So why “Loss Angeleeze”? When the police shootings last summer in Dallas happened, BBC reported it again from “Loss Angeleeze”. And BBC HAS to say “Dallas, in Texas”, as if no no one knows where Dallas is! Again, why “Loss Angeleeze”? The USA is a big country, much bigger than Southern California. What happened to the “Crowds-sourcing ideas” BBC trumpeted over two years ago, to get where the news happens?

    Newspeople need to be portable, like Richard Engels of NBC. He does not seem to be any kind of “bureau chief” in someplace like London. Yet people, in paricular Americans, RECOGNISE him, since he always IS where the news HAPPENS. Few would be nearly as familiar with the London bureau chief of NBC News.

    BBC does a nice job on the reporting of news as it is, but is clearly biased, and IMHO is not focusing enough on its bread and butter mission. BBC needs to get the hell out of this Hollywood mindset, with its pretty celebrities and beach beauties, and start reporting on happenings in the rest of the Western Hemisphere. In general news agencies should report on where the news is, not where the bureau is,

Leave a Reply