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Another bit of the empire crumbles…

January 26th, 2011 Posted in Uncategorized by

I have always been somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of BBC World Service.

On the one hand it sounds like a marvelous idea – spreading the message of freedom to those that don’t currently enjoy it; dispensing “truth” where news is otherwise suppressed or distorted; bringing the many joys of sport and culture to those currently deprived…

On the other hand – if the aim is to provide unbiased news, information and culture from the free world – why does America have its own world service (aka Voice of America)? Surely if this was just about getting accurate information into repressed nations, of getting banned literature, art and sport into countries where it would otherwise not be seen or heard, why isn’t there a more co-ordinated, joint effort from the free nations – say USA/UK/others ? Why the duplication? 

Presumably because a good deal of this is about BBC and Government egos? The former revelling in its revered status as broadcaster to the world (because only IT can do news properly) and British government seeking influence wherever it can find it – some throw back to its colonial past….. Jeremy Dear (NUJ) has today said as much “By cutting the service, the Government will cut British influence in the rest of the world, and cuts will also be deeply damaging for objective quality news services around the globe.” . Given how much trouble the desire for “British influence” has got us into in the last few years is it such a bad thing to curtail it somewhat? I doubt it.

One also has to look at the services to be cut … language services in Albanian, Macedonian, and Serbian, Portuguese outputs for Africa, and an English-language service for the Caribbean are those on the hit list. 

I am scratching my head somewhat. Albania, Macedonia and Serbia are all recognised as potential candidates for joining the EU. All these countries have good access to multiple media sources. Serbia has a several commercial TV stations (one was even set up by News Corp until they sold it a couple of years ago) , radio stations and wide internet access (over 50% ) with some 2 million on facebook. Albania and Macedonia both have media corruption issues ( neither as bad as Italy where the PM controls 90% it should be said). But, whilst Macedonia has three state channels it has a dominant commercial TV sector ratings-wise (and at least 50% of the population have internet access with no controls on access). Over in Albania, the national media is a bit of a mess (with business media and politics still too close for comfort), but then again many watch Italian and Greek TV via terrestrial reception or listen to Deutsche Welle, Radio France Internationale or Voice of America. There are also over 150 newspaper titles, including over 20 dailies. On top of that about 25% if not more regularly go on line.

It is still true that journalists face threats in all these countries but in all three the populations are not without options for their news whatever the NUJ in London chooses to think.

Moving the World Service out of the clutches of government (yes I know there was no “direct control” ) and into the public scrutiny of the taxlicence fee payer was an inspired move. Whether the BBC makes the right decisions on where it needs to cut is of course another matter. They look sound/overdue cuts but we all remember the BBCs’ utterly bizarre view that the radio service most deserving of cutting was 6Music.

So I am not going to shed a tear here. The World Service was created in 1932 to broadcast to English speakers in the outposts of the British Empire. Thanks to a world war and a bizarre funding system (which demanded that the people who paid for it (ie the foreign office) were kept at arms length from the operation it funded) , the World Service it has been allowed to grow unchecked into a huge monolith employing some 2,500 people, broadcasting in 32 languages, across all continents. But who has ever really scrutinised what it does, other than the BBC itself?  

I am not saying it’s all bad. Of course I am not. I am simply saying from where I am sitting it’s hard to see the good. And whilst the BBC World Service may remind some of some glorious past, when the map was pink and Britannia ruled the waves, this honestly looks like a dinosaur to me. Another part of the BBC empire crumbling? The heat under Mark Thompson has just gone up to gas mark 6.

2 Responses to “Another bit of the empire crumbles…”

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  2. Gentoo Says:

    I find BBC WS to be a welcome relief from R4, home of the handwringing, seemingly left wing, middle class, middle England. It’s the only reason to own a DAB radio.

    During the election, it appeared to be the only source of reasonable and reasoned discussion of the issues. Freed from the need to pander to the tribalism of the politicians and the electorate, as it’s not intended for a UK audience, the debate got remarkably intelligent. Mrs Duffy didn’t feature.

    Bridget Kendall is a gem.

    The articles on village life in the middle of nowhere can be a bit right-on but they are preferable to more excitement from Ambridge.

    I hope its English language output stays as good as it is now.