Memorandum submitted by the BBC World
Between 1946 and 1992 the only language of the
old Soviet Union in which the BBC broadcast was Russian. English
programmes were also available but these attracted a very small
audience. BBC short wave transmitters from the UK and from Cyprus
were targeted on European Russia, Ukraine and Belorussia. Our
Russian programmes focused mainly on the concerns of audiences
in the European part of the former Soviet Union and on listeners
with a Soviet education who happened to be living elsewhere in
With the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991,
it was clear that the BBC would have to take the new realities
into account: the World Service realised there would be a need
for region-specific focus and for new language services. The Ukrainian
Service began broadcasting in June 1992. In November 1994 the
World Service made a start in the Caucasus and Central Asia with
the launch of Azeri and Uzbek, and added some regionally focused
Russian. Kazakh and Kyrgyz came in June 1996. In addition listeners
in Tajikistan have been able to turn to the long-established BBC
Persian Service which has added a Central Asia regional focus
to one of its daily programmes (Tajik is basically Persian written
with the Cyrillic alphabet).
The BBC now has a programme offer which is relevant
to listeners in the five Central Asian republics and the three
Caucasian republics (population 70 million). The Azeri programmes
are also available on short wave for the 15 million Azeri speakers
in Iran. The Central Asia/Caucasus Service is on the air five
hours a day and another two hours' programming a day is specially
scheduled for the region by the Russian and Persian services.
From the outset delivery has been one of the
biggest issues the BBC has faced. Russian-speakers in the European
Russian tradition have been used to listening on short wave. But
this is not true for non-Russians in the Central Asia/Caucasus
area. If the BBC is to get through to such people it needs to
be on local delivery systems which, in practical terms, means
either transmitter hire or rebroadcasting arrangements, i.e. finding
local stations who are prepared to include satellite-delivered
BBC programmes in their own schedules.
In Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan the BBC has almost
nation-wide coverage thanks to agreements both with state broadcasters
and with private stations. In all cases partners undertake not
to interfere with the editorial integrity of the programming.
Azerbaijan has just agreed to allow the BBC to open its own FM
in the capital, Baku. In Tajikistan there is a single but very
effective hired medium wave transmitter near the capital, Dushanbe.
In Georgia and Armenia, there is some FM rebroadcasting in Tbilisi
and Yerevan, the capitals. In Kazakhstan it has been very difficult
to find good rebroadcasting partners and the licensing environment
is also very unstable. In Turkmenistan, rebroadcasting and/or
transmitter hire is unlikely in the near future.
In Uzbekistan the BBC Central Asia Service was
able to conclude an agreement with a branch of the local Ministry
of Communications to hire a small network of medium wave transmitters
giving coverage of several major towns. BBC Uzbek broadcasts made
a substantial impact and, as successive crises gripped Afghanistan
(Uzbekistan's southern neighbour) there were signs of steeply
growing audiences. However, the Uzbeks terminated this arrangement
at the end of 1998. The reason given was that the state broadcaster
needed the transmitter network used by the BBC for a new programme
strand, but there may also have been worries about the extent
of the BBC's impact in Uzbekistan. Despite the best diplomatic
endeavours, the BBC is still off local medium-wave transmitters.
The position can be partially (but only partially) retrieved by
using medium wave transmitters in neighbouring countries. This
is a serious problem.
Except in Azerbaijan where the BBC has 7 per
cent weekly reach, audiences are largely unmeasured. Market research
is difficult. There is strong anecdotal evidence for the impact
the BBC makes. In Uzbekistan, the names of local correspondents
became very widely known at the time of the first Taleban incursion
into the north of Afghanistan. In Azerbaijan the BBC plays an
essential role in the nation's reporting and understanding of
itself. There is strong evidence from many parts of the region
that government and opposition leaders listen regularly.
An essential element in the BBC's impact is
its ability to gather local news. There are World Service correspondents
and production bureaux in Tashkent and Baku as well as local correspondents
for the language services in all the capitals. A special effort
has been made to train these local journalists to operate effectively
to BBC standards.
The World Service aims to set the lives of its
listeners in Central Asia and the Caucasus (and elsewhere of course)
in a world context. This means that the BBC offers a mix of local
and international reporting, analyis and comment on news and current
events, and tries to draw out their meaning and significance.
In the context of this particular region there is a special responsibility
to help spread knowledge and understanding of the way in which
open free-market societies function and the British experience
is often the prism used by programme-makers to view their theme.
Another gap which the BBC can help make good is the widespread
ignorance of history, nationhood and religion. There is also a
thirst for English-language teaching programmes. This editorial
vision often takes the Central Asia and Caucasus Service into
a semi-educational role.
Courses made by BBC English (the BBC's in-house
English-language teaching arm) have been adopted as standard teaching
material for secondary schools in Uzbekistan and Kyrgystan. There
have been successful training initiatives for media managers and
journalists funded by the British Government's Know How Fund.
The most recent recipients have come from Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan
and Kyrgyzstan. A new development has been civic educational programming
and training funded by the OSCE. This has enabled the Central
Asia and Caucasus Service to make programmes tailored for the
region about human rights, and about good election practice (for
Azerbaijan and Georgia ahead of elections there). In March 1999
the Head of the Service led a training seminar in Baku.
THE UK RELATIONSHIP
The BBC Central Asia and Caucasus Service in
London has become an important facilitator for communications
between Britain and the region.There is a growing number of visitors
at every level: private, specialist, academic, official, political.
The Presidents and Prime Ministers of Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan,
the Foreign Ministers of Uzbekistan, Georgia and Azerbaijan, have
all visited Bush Housesome of them staying for several
hours and taking the opportunity to talk to the programme-makers.
There has been a growing perception in the region
that the World Service plays a valuable role in the construction
of civil society.
This helps foster a climate in which other relationships
can flourish. In Uzbekistan, for instance, the Ministry of Communications
placed a large order for replacement television transmitter valves
from a British company. This deal clearly came about because of
the Ministry's previous contacts with the World Service.
On Tuesday 16 February 1999, the BBC Uzbek programmes,
extended specially to cover the news of bomb explosions in Tashkent,
produced a good example of live reporting from the scene. The
World Service also gave listeners in Uzbekistan an important perspective
missing in the coverage of their domestic media: rigorous questioning
of official and opposition views on possible motives and consequences
of the event.
In May 1998, the BBC Kyrgyz programme was first
to confirm that large amounts of toxic chemicals had spilled into
a river in eastern Kyrgyzstan, which was a source of drinking
water, and fed Lake Issyk kul, a popular tourist resort in Central
Asia. The Kyrgyz press wrote later that the BBC programmes were
the best source of expert advice for people who were worried that
they could be facing a major environmental disaster.
Perhaps the Service's proudest programme venture
was a series of travelogues made in 1997 by an Azeri and an Armenian
journalist, who went together to Armenia and Azerbaijan and to
Karabagh, the focus of the war between the two countries. Stories
of people on both sides, and the reflections of the two journalists,
each from the other's camp, broke national taboos in both countries.
The main Armenian and Azeri dailies reviewed the series on their
front pages. One wrote: "BBC has touched people in a way
no politician could".
The prime role of BBC Monitoring (funded on
a subscription basis, not through the Grant in Aid), is to provide
information services to the BBC and the British Government. The
information is also available to Parliament on the Parliamentary
intranet. In addition BBC Monitoring sells data commercially through
an arrangement with BBC Worldwide Ltd., and it has a number of
customers among UK businesses operating in the region.
BBC Monitoring has been operating information-gathering
units in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, since 1994 and in Baku, Azerbaijan,
since 1997. They have enjoyed strong support from HM Ambassadors
in these countries, both in the shape of advice, encouragement
and contacts for our local teams, and in representations to the
The information these units gather is monitored
from the public media of the countries concernedradio,
television, news agencies, newspapers and the Internet. Examples
would include the political developments in Azerbaijan leading
up to and following the re-election of President Aliyev, developments
in the Caspian oil industry, and relationships between Azerbaijan
and Armenia. From Tashkent, they include the constant shifts in
the situation in Afghanistan, which is covered from Afghan, Iranian
and other regional sources. Uzbek, Iranian and other sources yield
valuable information about the political situation in Uzbekistan,
including the recent bomb attacks and the official reactions to
them. BBC Monitoring reports regularly on the war and political
situation in Tajikistan, the role of Russian forces there, the
allegations of Uzbek involvement and relations between the two
countries. Another regular topic is the development of the economy
of Kazakhstan and the political events there.
The Central Asia Unit also collects some information
through remotely-sited equipment, some of it located at the British
embassies in the respective countries. In particular, the equipment
in Ashkhabad, Turkmenistan, makes a valuable contribution to its