Written evidence from Ms A. Corinne Podger |
1. I am writing to urge a rethink of the closure
of services at the BBC World Service. I am a former BBC World
Service journalist and am now a senior journalist at ABC Radio
Australia, a direct and deliberate competitor to the World Service
in the Asia-Pacific region. While my loyalties are to those of
my current employer, I worked at the BBC for many years and believe
that it has a role to "export Britain" to this key region
of the world.
2. I am opposed to the cuts in general, but would
raise some concerns with regard to specific services facing cuts:
2(a) Chinese service
While China is widely seen as "the Asian giant"
in economic terms, the vast majority of Chinese still live in
straitened circumstances, and internet access is:
(i) not easily accessible to many; and
(ii) heavily censored.
Chinese people are very well aware of the fact that
their country will soon eclipse the US in economic terms, and
that their manufacturing sector is fuelling post-GFC economic
survival around the world. To deprive the people of China, whose
news is already heavily censored, of an external shortwave voice
informing them of the benefits of democracy and the achievements
of the West is to lose a crucial opportunity to educate a vast
mass of people whose government already, to a certain extent,
runs the affairs of other countries via trade. It is easy to forget
China in Europe; having lived in both Australasia and Europe,
I know this personally. However the Chinese are keenly aware of
their rise to dominance while Europe struggles with recession
2(b) Hindi service
India is equally en route to become one of the largest
economies in the world. It is also a former British colony. India
has always been a net exporter of people (most of whom are working
class) to the United States, Canada, Australia, the Asia-Pacific
(eg Fiji), and Africa. To communicate in Hindi is to reach a fifth
of the world's population within India, and tens of millions of
Indian expats all over the world. It is the opportunity to communicate
to these people the achievements of the West, and encourages them
to maintain a cultural fondness for Britain.
2(c) Indonesian service
Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim country.
I find it incredible that the BBC is building up its Arabic service,
and failing to take account of Indonesia. Terrorism, if I may
use that word, is already a scourge for Indonesia's Muslims; witness
the Bali bombings in 2002 and 2006. If the West is to communicate
meaningfully with the Muslim world, Indonesiaand Bahasa
IndonesianMUST be part of that picture.
3. BBC WORLD
I am from Australia. I lived in Britain from 1995-2006
and worked for the BBC World Service as a journalist for most
of that time. I now live in Australia, where I work with the BBC
World Service's direct competitor in the region, ABC Radio Australia.
So I am personally and professionally aware that Britain must
make tough economic choices in these difficult times. To cut back
the BBC World Service is absurd; the money saved is paltry in
comparison to the benefits to be gained by maintaining the current
service. As I write, the ABC is in the process of expansion -
mimicking, I would add, the BBC with a new 24-hour cable television
news channel. It also maintains Radio Australia, which is where
I now work, and which has services in Mandarin Chinese, Indonesian,
Vietnamese, French, Tok Pisin (from PNG) and Khmer. The suggestion
that Radio Australia would wind up its Chinese or Indonesian services
would be met with astonished laughter, because there is a clear
understanding in Australia that China has kept the world from
a repeat of the 1930s Depression, and that digging stuff out of
the ground and selling it to the Chinese is keeping this country
afloat economically. We are, to sum up, keenly aware of the influence
of China, and the ABC has every intention, as I understand it,
to maintain some form of Australian influence in return.
I would urge this parliamentary inquiry to remember
that those who were alive during the independence era of the 1940s-60s
are now into retirement. New generations - especially in Asia
and the Pacific, where the median age in many countries is under
30 - have no cultural memory of Britain. Many of these former
colonies have no significant expat community in Britain; no grandmothers,
no cousins, no friends. They are unlikely to visit or work there.
Consequently they will take no more interest in the UK than, say,
Portugal or Belize, unless they have a reason to do so. The BBC
World Service IS THAT REASON. It brings British ideas, values,
habits and interests to the world. To cut ties to 30 million people
in increasingly influential countries (China, India, Indonesia)
or indeed countries where democracy is under threat (Swahili and
Portuguese-speaking regions of Africa) is a retrograde step of
embarrassing proportions. It has taken the BBC decades to build
its audience, and arguably the timing of its foundingcoinciding
as it did with the end of the colonial era - made the BBC World
Service a soft-landing alternative to British domination; it replaced
antipathy with sympathyeven nostalgiain the hearts
of millions. It is a great shame that a recession of a few years'
duration will cost Britain that influence. You could not put a
price tag on restoring it, because once it is lost, it will be
4(a) That the decision to suspend any services,
especially those in Chinese, Hindi and Indonesian, be reversed
as a matter of urgency.
4(b) That an impact study of the loss of any
services be carried out in consultation with communities in those
countries and with expat communities in key countries (eg the
US) prior to the suspension of any services
4(c) That an impact study on the loss of British
influence in countries affected by the World Service cuts be carried
out in order to ascertain the economic and diplomatic cost to
British influence abroad, prior to the implementation of any cuts.
You need to be sure that you are getting value for money.
27 January 2011