BBC World Service
|Type||Radio network broadcasting News, Speech, Discussions|
|Slogan||The World's Radio Station|
|Headquarters||Broadcasting House, London|
|Fran Unsworth (Director)|
|19 December 1932|
|BBC Empire Service
BBC Overseas Service
External Services of the BBC
Internet Schedule live streaming
English News live streaming
Africa live streaming
The BBC World Service is the world's largest international broadcaster, broadcasting news, speech and discussions in 28 languages to many parts of the world on analogue and digital shortwave platforms, internet streaming, podcasting, satellite, FM and MW relays. The World Service was reported to have reached 188 million people a week on average in June 2009. The English language service broadcasts 24 hours a day.
The World Service is funded by the United Kingdom's television licence fee, limited advertising and the profits of BBC Worldwide Ltd. The World Service was funded for decades by grant-in-aid through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the British Government until 1 April 2014.
The Director of the BBC World Service is Francesca Unsworth.
The BBC World Service began as the BBC Empire Service in 1932 as a shortwave service aimed principally at English speakers in the outposts of the British Empire. In his first Christmas Message, King George V stated that the service was intended for "men and women, so cut off by the snow, the desert, or the sea, that only voices out of the air can reach them." First hopes for the Empire Service were low. The Director General, Sir John Reith (later Lord Reith) said in the opening programme: "Don't expect too much in the early days; for some time we shall transmit comparatively simple programmes, to give the best chance of intelligible reception and provide evidence as to the type of material most suitable for the service in each zone. The programmes will neither be very interesting nor very good." This address was read out five times as it was broadcast live to different parts of the world.
On 3 January 1938, the first foreign language service, Arabic, was launched. German programmes commenced on 29 March 1938 and by the end of 1942 broadcasts were being made in all major European languages. As a result, the Empire Service was renamed the BBC Overseas Service in November 1939, and a dedicated BBC European Service was added in 1941. These broadcasting services, financed not from the domestic licence fee but from government grant-in-aid (from the Foreign Office budget), were known administratively as the External Services of the BBC.
By the end of the 1940s the number of languages broadcast had expanded and reception had improved following the opening of a relay in modern day Malaysia and of the Limassol relay, Cyprus, in 1957. On 1 May 1965 the service took its current name of BBC World Service and the service itself expanded its reach with the opening of the Ascension Island relay in 1966, serving African audiences with greater signal and reception, and the later relay on the Island of Masirah.
In August 1985, the service went off the air for the first time when workers struck in protest at the British government's decision to ban a documentary featuring an interview with Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin. The External Services were renamed under the BBC World Service brand in 1988.
In recent years, the number and type of services offered by the BBC has decreased through financial pressures. Due to the launch of internet based services, the need for a radio station is less frequent in countries where the population has easy access to the internet news sites of the BBC. The German broadcasts were stopped in March 1999 after research showed that the majority of German listeners tuned into the English version of the service. Broadcasts in Dutch, Finnish, French for Europe, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese and Malay were stopped for similar reasons.
On 25 October 2005 it was announced that the Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Greek, Hungarian, Kazakh, Polish, Slovak, Slovene and Thai language radio services would end by March 2006 to finance the launch of an Arabic and Persian language TV news channel in 2007. Additionally, Romanian broadcasts ceased on 1 August 2008.
More service closures came in January 2011 when the closing of five language services was announced as a result of the financial situation the corporation was facing following the eventual financial transfer of responsibility for the World Service from the Foreign Office to the BBC licence fee. The Albanian, Macedonian, Portuguese for Africa, Serbian, and English for the Caribbean services were closed; the Russian, Ukrainian, Mandarin Chinese, Turkish, Vietnamese, Azeri and Spanish for Cuba services ceased broadcasting a radio service and the Hindi, Indonesian, Kyrgyz, Nepali, Swahili, Kinyarwanda and Kirundi services ceased transmission on the short wave band. The British government announced that the three Balkan countries had luxuriant access to international information and continuation of broadcast in the local tongues had become unnecessary. 650 jobs went as part of the cuts and the service is facing a sixteen percent budget cut.
In March 2011 The Guardian published an article concerning an agreement between BBC Media Action (the BBC's broadcasting development charity) and the US State Department, in which the latter would provide the charity with a "low six figure" sum so that new technology could be developed that would stop jamming and to educate people on how to avoid state censorship should they want to. However, the agreement has caused accusations that these measures would encourage a pro-American bias within the service and would help America win the 'Information War'.
The BBC World Service broadcasts from Broadcasting House in London, headquarters of the corporation as a whole. The service is located in the new constructions of the building and contains radio and television studios for use by the several language services. The building also contains an integrated newsroom used by the international World Service, the international television channel BBC World News, the domestic television and radio BBC News bulletins, the BBC News Channel and the BBC Website service to the World Wide Web.
Upon launch, the service was located, along with nearly all Radio output, in Broadcasting House. However, following the explosion of a parachute mine outside the building on 8 December 1940, the services relocated to new premises away from the likely target of Broadcasting House. The Overseas service relocated to premises in Oxford Street while the European service moved temporarily to the emergency broadcasting facilities at Maida Vale Studios. The European services moved permanently into Bush House towards the end of 1940, completing the move in 1941, with the Overseas services joining them in 1958. Bush House subsequently became the home of the BBC World Service and the building itself has gained a global reputation with the audience of the service. However, the building was vacated in 2012 as a result of the Broadcasting House changes and the end of the building's lease that year; the first service to move was the Burmese Service on 11 March 2012 and the final broadcast was a news bulletin broadcast at 11.00GMT on 12 July 2012.
The BBC World Service is used to describe an English 24-hour global radio network and separate services in 27 languages. News and information is available on all these languages on the BBC Website with many having RSS feeds and specific versions for use on mobile phones and some also using email notification of stories. In addition to the English service, 18 of the language services broadcast a radio service using the Short wave, AM or the FM band. These programmes are also available to listen live over the internet, can be listened to again over the internet for seven days or indefinitely in some cases and, in the case of seven language services, can be downloaded as podcasts. One can also listen to the news from the BBC News app, which is available on both iTunes and the Google Play Store. In recent years, video content has also been used by the World Service; 16 language services now show video reports in that language on the service's website and two services now have dedicated television channels – BBC Arabic launched in 2008 and BBC Persian launched in 2009. Television services are also used to broadcast the radio service, with local cable and satellite television operators providing the English network and occasionally some local language services free to air on their services. The English language service is also available on digital radio in the UK and Europe.
Traditionally, the BBC World Service relied on shortwave broadcasts, because of its ability to overcome barriers of censorship, distance and spectrum scarcity. To this end, the BBC has maintained a worldwide network of shortwave relay stations since the 1940s, mainly in former British colonies. These cross border broadcasts have also been used in special circumstances to broadcast emergency messages to British subjects abroad, such as the advice to evacuate Jordan during the Black September incidents of September 1970. These facilities were privatised in 1997 as Merlin Communications, which were later acquired and operated as part of a wider network for multiple broadcasters by VT Communications (now part of Babcock International Group). It is also common for BBC programmes to air on traditionally Voice of America or ORF transmitters, while their programming is relayed by a station physically located in the UK. However, since the 1980s, satellite distribution has made it possible for local stations to relay BBC programming.
The World Service aims to be "the world's best-known and most-respected voice in international broadcasting, thereby bringing benefit to the UK, the BBC and to audiences around the world" while retaining a "balanced British view" of international developments. Like the rest of the BBC, the World Service is a Crown corporation of the UK Government. Until 2014, unlike the rest of the corporation, which is funded through a television licence fee, the World Service was funded through a Parliamentary grant-in-aid given by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. In 2008/9 the BBC World Service received 12.4% of the department's £2.2 billion budget and in the financial year 2011/12, the service received £255.2 million from this grant.
In addition to the BBC World Service broadcasts in English, the service also provides services catering for 27 other languages. These are:
The World Service has previously operated a number of different language services, targeted to different audiences. The table lists all of the current and former language services and when they operated.
|Language||Start Date||Close Date||Website|
|Afrikaans||14 May 1939||8 September 1957|
|Albanian||12 November 1940
20 February 1993
|20 January 1967
28 February 2011
|BBC Albanian Archive|
|Arabic||3 January 1938||BBC Arabic|
|Azeri||30 November 1994||BBC Azeri|
|Belgian French & Belgian Dutch||28 September 1940||30 March 1952|
|Bengali||11 October 1941||BBC Bangla|
|Bulgarian||7 February 1940||23 December 2005||BBC Bulgarian Archive|
|Burmese||2 September 1940||BBC Burmese|
|Croatian||29 September 1991||31 January 2006||BBC Croatian Archive|
|Cantonese Chinese||5 May 1941||BBC Chinese|
|Hokkien Chinese||1 October 1942||7 February 1948|
|Mandarin Chinese||19 May 1941||25 March 2011||BBC Chinese|
|Czech||31 December 1939||28 February 2006||BBC Czech Archive|
|Danish||9 April 1940||10 August 1957|
|Dutch||11 April 1940||10 August 1957|
|Dutch for Indonesia||28 August 1944
25 May 1946
|2 April 1945
13 May 1951
|English||25 December 1936||BBC World Service|
|English for the Caribbean||25 December 1976||25 March 2011||BBC Caribbean Archive|
|Finnish||18 March 1940||31 December 1997|
|French for Africa||20 June 1960||BBC French|
|French for Canada||2 November 1942||8 May 1980|
|French for Europe||27 September 1938||31 March 1995|
|French for South-East Asia||28 August 1944||3 April 1955|
|German||27 September 1938||26 March 1999|
|German for Austria||29 March 1943||15 September 1957|
|Greek||30 September 1939||31 December 2005||BBC Greek Archive|
|Greek for Cyprus||16 September 1940||3 June 1951|
|Gujarati||1 March 1942||3 September 1944|
|Hausa||13 March 1957||BBC Hausa|
|Hebrew||30 October 1949||28 October 1968|
|Hindi||11 May 1940||BBC Hindi|
|Hungarian||5 September 1939||31 December 2005||BBC Hungarian Archive|
|Icelandic||1 December 1940||26 June 1944|
|Italian||27 September 1938||31 December 1981|
|Indonesian||30 October 1949||BBC Indonesian|
|Japanese||4 July 1943||31 March 1991|
|Kazakh||1 April 1995||16 December 2005||BBC Kazakh Archive|
|Kinyarwanda||8 September 1994||BBC Kinyarwanda|
|Kyrgyz||1 April 1995||BBC Kyrgyz|
|Luxembourgish||29 May 1943||30 May 1952|
|Macedonian||6 January 1996||4 March 2011||BBC Macedonian Archive|
|Malay||2 May 1941||31 March 1991|
|Maltese||10 August 1940||31 December 1981|
|Marathi||1 March 1942
31 December 1944
|3 September 1944
25 December 1958
|Nepali||7 June 1969||BBC Nepali|
|Norwegian||9 April 1940||10 August 1957|
|Pashto||15 August 1981||BBC Pashto|
|Persian||28 December 1940||BBC Persian|
|Polish||7 September 1939||23 December 2005||BBC Polish Archive|
|Portuguese for Africa||4 June 1939||25 February 2011||BBC Portuguese for Africa Archive|
|Portuguese for Brasil||14 March 1938||BBC Brasil|
|Portuguese for Europe||4 June 1939||10 August 1957|
|Romanian||15 September 1939||1 August 2008||BBC Romanian Archive|
|Russian||7 October 1942
24 March 1946
|26 May 1943||BBC Russian|
|Serbian||29 September 1991||25 February 2011||BBC Serbian Archive|
|Sinhala||10 March 1942
11 March 1990
|30 March 1976||BBC Sinhala|
|Slovak||31 December 1941||31 December 2005||BBC Slovak Archive|
|Slovene||22 April 1941||23 December 2005||BBC Slovene Archive|
|Somali||18 July 1957||BBC Somali|
|Spanish for Latin America||14 March 1938||BBC Mundo|
|Swahili||27 June 1957||BBC Swahili|
|Swedish||12 February 1940||4 March 1961|
|Tamil||3 May 1941||BBC Tamil|
|Thai||27 April 1941
3 June 1962
10 July 2014
|5 March 1960
13 January 2006
|BBC Thai Archive
BBC Thai Facebook page
|Turkish||20 November 1939||BBC Turkish|
|Ukrainian||1 June 1992||BBC Ukrainian|
|Urdu||3 April 1949||BBC Urdu|
|Uzbek||30 November 1994||BBC Uzbek|
|Vietnamese||6 February 1952||BBC Vietnamese|
|Welsh for Patagonia, Argentina||1945||1946|
|Yugoslav (Serbo-Croatian)||15 September 1939||28 September 1991|
At present, the English language service of the World Service offers a schedule consisting mainly of news and background programmes with some other cultural programmes also featuring. Mainstays of the current BBC World Service schedule include the news programmes Newsday, World Update, Newshour and The Newsroom, and the daily arts and entertainment news programme The Strand, which started in late 2008. There are daily science programmes, including Health Check, the technology programme Click and Science in Action. At the weekends, some of the schedule is taken up by Sportsworld, which often includes live commentary of Premier League football matches. Other weekend sport shows include Sportshour and Stumped, a cricket partnership with All India Radio and The Australian Broadcasting Corporation. On Sundays the international, interdisciplinary discussion programme The Forum is broadcast. On weekdays, an hour of the schedule is given over to World: Have Your Say which encourages listeners to participate in discussing current events via text message, phone calls, emails and blog postings.
Previously, other programming was broadcast including music programmes, such as those presented by John Peel, classical music programmes presented by Edward Greenfield, religious programmes with mostly Anglican celebrations, often from the Church of St. Martin in the Fields, weekly drama, educational programmes such as English-language lessons, and humour, with programmes such as Just A Minute. Other notable previous programmes included Letter from America by Alistair Cooke, which was broadcast for over 50 years; Off the Shelf, which featured a daily reading from a novel, biography or history book; and Outlook, a long running human interest story programme, first broadcast in July 1966 and presented for more than thirty years by John Tidmarsh. Further examples of the broad range of programmes for the audience can be seen through programmes included A Jolly Good Show, a musical requests programme presented by Dave Lee Travis; Waveguide, a radio reception guide for listeners; The Merchant Navy Programme, a show for seafarers presented by Malcolm Billings.
While some of this range of programming is still retained, since the late 1990s, the focus of the station has been as a news network, with news bulletins added every half-hour following the outbreak of the Iraq War.
The core feature of much World Service scheduling is the news. This is almost always transmitted at one minute past the hour, where there is a five-minute bulletin, and on the half-hour where there is a two-minute summary. Sometimes these bulletins are separated from the programmes being transmitted, whilst at other times they are integral to the programme (such as with The Newsroom, Newshour or The World Today). As part of the BBC's policy for breaking news, the BBC World Service is the first service to receive a full report for foreign news.
The BBC World Service employs a team of 7 staff announcer/newsreaders.
The following relief newsreaders can also be heard on the network:
Broadcasts have traditionally come from the UK, Cyprus, the large BBC Atlantic Relay Station on Ascension Island, and the smaller Lesotho Relay Station and Indian Ocean Relay Station on Seychelles. A large part of the English schedule is taken up by specialist programming from and for Africa, for example Network Africa, Focus on Africa and Africa Have Your Say. In the 1990s, the BBC added FM facilities in many African capital cities.
BBC shortwave broadcasts to this region were traditionally enhanced by the Atlantic Relay Station and the Caribbean Relay Company, a station in Antigua run jointly with Deutsche Welle. In addition, an exchange agreement with Radio Canada International gave access to their station in New Brunswick. However, "changing listening habits" led the World Service to end shortwave radio transmission directed to North America and Australasia on 1 July 2001. A shortwave listener coalition formed to oppose the change. Both XM Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio rebroadcast the World Service over commercial satellite radio to Canada and the United States, and more than 300 public radio stations across the US carry World Service news broadcasts—mostly during the overnight and early-morning hours—over AM and FM radio, through American Public Media (APM). Listeners also have the option of calling a US number to listen to a live stream, 712-432-6580. The BBC and Public Radio International (PRI) co-produce the programme The World with WGBH Radio Boston, and the BBC is also involved with The Takeaway morning news programme based at WNYC in New York City. BBC World Service programming also airs as part of CBC Radio One's CBC Radio Overnight schedule in Canada.
The BBC continues to broadcast to Central America and South America in several languages. It is possible to receive the Western African shortwave radio broadcasts from eastern North America, but the BBC does not guarantee reception in this area. It has ended its specialist programming to the Falkland Islands but continues to provide a stream of World Service programming to the Falkland Islands Radio Service.
For several decades, the World Service's largest audiences have been in Asia, the Middle East, Near East and South Asia. Transmission facilities in the UK and Cyprus have been supplemented by the former BBC Eastern Relay Station in Oman and the Far Eastern Relay Station in Singapore. The East Asian Relay Station moved to Thailand in 1997 when Hong Kong was handed over to Chinese sovereignty. Together, these facilities have given the BBC World Service an easily accessible signal in regions where shortwave listening has traditionally been popular. The English shortwave frequencies of 6195, 9740, 15310/360 and 17790/760 kHz are widely known.
The largest audiences are in English, Hindi, Urdu, Nepali, Bengali, Tamil, Sinhala and other major languages of South Asia, where BBC broadcasters are household names. The Persian service is the de facto national broadcaster of Afghanistan, along with its Iranian audience. The World Service is available up to eighteen hours a day in English across most parts of Asia, and in Arabic for the Middle East. With the addition of relays in Afghanistan and Iraq these services are accessible in most of the Middle and Near East in the evening. In Hong Kong and Singapore, the BBC World Service in English is essentially treated as a domestic broadcaster, easily available 24/7 through long-term agreements with Radio Television Hong Kong and MediaCorp Radio. In the Philippines, DZRJ 810 AM broadcasts the BBC World Service in English from 12:00–05:00 PHT (GMT+8).
Although this region has seen the launch of the only two foreign language television channels, several other services have had their radio services closed as a result of budget cuts and redirection of resources.
Iran, Iraq and Myanmar/Burma have all jammed the BBC in the past. Mandarin was heavily jammed by the People's Republic of China until short wave transmissions for that service ceased but China continues to jam transmissions in Uzbek and has since started to jam transmissions in English throughout Asia.
The World Service employed a medium wave transmitter at Orford Ness to provide English-language coverage to Europe, including on the frequency 648 kHz (which could be heard in parts of the south-east of England). Transmissions on this frequency were stopped on 27 March 2011, as a consequence of the budgetary constraints imposed on the BBC World Service in the 2010 budget review. A second channel (1296 kHz) traditionally broadcast in various Central European languages, but in 2005 it began regular English-language transmissions via the Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) format. This is a digital shortwave technology that VT expects to become the standard for cross-border transmissions in developed countries.
In the 1990s, the BBC purchased and constructed large medium wave and FM networks in the former Soviet bloc, particularly the Czech (BBC Czech Section), Slovak Republics (BBC Slovak Section), Poland (BBC Polish Section) (where it was a national network) and Russia (BBC Russian Service). It had built up a strong audience during the Cold War, whilst economic restructuring made it difficult for these governments to refuse Western investment. Many of these facilities have now returned to domestic control, as economic and political conditions have changed.
On Monday 18 February 2008, the BBC World Service stopped analogue shortwave transmissions to Europe. The notice stated, "Increasing numbers of people around the world are choosing to listen to radio on a range of other platforms including FM, satellite and online, with fewer listening on shortwave." It is sometimes possible to pick up the BBC World Service in Europe on SW frequencies targeted at North Africa. The BBC's powerful 198 kHz LW, which broadcasts the domestic BBC Radio 4 to Britain during the day (and carries the World Service during the night) can also be heard in nearby parts of Europe, including the Republic of Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium and parts of France, Germany and Scandinavia.
On Wednesday, 10 December 2008, BBC World Service and Deutsche Welle started broadcasting a joint DRM digital radio station. It broadcasts a mix of English-language news and information programmes produced by each partner, and is aimed at an audience in mainland Europe. The station hopes, among other things, to stimulate the production of DRM radio receivers.
Shortwave relays from Singapore (see Asia, above) continue, but historic relays via Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and Radio New Zealand International were wound down in the late 1990s. The World Service is available as part of the subscription Digital Air package (available from Foxtel and Austar) in Australia. ABC NewsRadio, SBS Radio, and various community radio stations also broadcast many programmes. Many of these stations broadcast a straight feed during the midnight to dawn period. It is also available via the satellite service Optus Aurora, which is encrypted but available without subscription.
Japan and Korea have little tradition of World Service listening, although during the 1970s to 1980s, shortwave listening was popular in Japan. In those two countries, the BBC World Service was only available via shortwave and the Internet. As of September 2007, a satellite transmission (subscription required) became available by Skylife (Channel 791) in South Korea.
In Sydney, Australia a transmission of the service can be received at 152.025 MHz. It is also available on the DAB+ Network in Australia under the name of SBS6.
BBC World Service relays on Radio Australia now carry the BBC Radio news programmes. 2MBS-FM 102.5, a classical music station in Sydney, also carries the BBC World Service news programmes at 7am and 8am on weekdays, during its 'Music for a New Day' breakfast programme.
In New Zealand, stations of the Auckland Radio Trust and the Association of Community Access Broadcasters carry some BBC World Service content including a 24/7 transmission on an AM Frequency (810 kHz) in Auckland. The BBC World Service was previously available on 1233AM in Wellington between 1990-1994, and again from 1996-1997.
The BBC World Service does not receive funding for broadcasts to the UK, and reliable medium wave reception was possible in only southeast of England from the 648 kHz service which ceased in 2011 as a cost-cutting measure. Since the introduction of digital broadcasting, the World Service's output has been made more widely available in the UK with the service now being carried on DAB, Freeview, Virgin Media and Sky platforms. The World Service is also broadcast overnight on the frequencies of BBC Radio 4 following the latter's closedown at 0100 British time.
The World Service uses several tunes and sounds to represent the station. The current signature tune of the station is a five note motif, composed by David Arnold and which comprises a variety of voices declaim "This is the BBC in..." before going on to name various cities (e.g. Kampala, Milan, Delhi, Johannesburg), followed by the station's slogan and the Greenwich Time Signal. This is heard throughout the network with a few variations – in the UK the full service name is spoken whereas just the name of the BBC is used outside the UK. The phrase "This is London" was used previously in place of the station slogan.
The tune Lillibullero is another well known signature tune of the network following its broadcast previously as part of the top-of-the-hour sequence. This piece of music is still heard before certain bulletins and as a shortened version elsewhere, but it is used less often than previously. The use of the tune has gained some controversy because of its background as a Protestant marching song in Northern Ireland.
In addition to these tunes, the BBC World Service also uses several interval signals. The English service uses a recording of the Bow Bells, made in 1926 and used a symbol of hope during the Second World War, only replaced for a brief time during the 1970s with the tune to the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons. The morse code of the letter "V" has also been used as a signal and was introduced in January 1941 and had several variations including timpani, the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony (which coincide with the letter "V"), and electronic tones which until recently remained in use for some Western European services. In other languages, the interval signal is three notes, pitched B–B-C. However, these symbols have been used less frequently.
The network operates using GMT, regardless of the time zone and time of year, and is announced on the hour on the English service as "13 hours Greenwich Mean Time" (1300 GMT) or "Midnight Greenwich Mean Time" (0000 GMT). At the start of the new year, as part of an annual tradition, the BBC World Service broadcasts the chimes of Big Ben in London.
At various times in its history, the BBC World Service has published magazines and programme guides:
- London Calling: listings
- BBC Worldwide: included features of interest to an international audience (included London Calling as an insert)
- BBC on Air: mainly listings
- BBC Focus on Africa: current affairs
Of these, only BBC Focus on Africa is still being published.
- External program hours - Comparison with some other external radio broadcasters
- BBC World Service frequencies
- BBC World News
- BBC World Service Television
- BBC Media Action
- 1988–94 British broadcasting voice restrictions
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- Robert Weedon (16 December 2009). "Audio Identities". Retrieved 4 September 2010.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to BBC World Service.|
- BBC World Service at BBC Online
- BBC World Service key facts from the BBC Press Office at BBC Online
- Diniacopoulos/BBC News Collection at Concordia Centre for Broadcasting and Journalism Studies – CCBS
- BBC World Service – French, Russian and Spanish – broadcast reviews of 3 London productions of Internationalist Theatre in 1981 and 1985: Genet 'The Balcony', Gorky's 'Enemies' and Griselda Gambaro's 'El Campo'