Implications of BBC World Service Cuts - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

Written evidence from Keith Perron

1.  Opposition to the BBC World Service Cuts the Chinese Section.

(a)  My name is Keith Perron a Canadian who has been based in Asia for the past 11 years. Eight of those years I was based in China. For the past 22 years I have worked in international broadcasting for stations like Radio Canada International, Monitor Radio News, China Radio International, Radio Netherlands Worldwide. I also own PCJ Media/Radio an international content provider. I'm now based in Taiwan.

2.  Since 1989 there has been a major decline in international shortwave broadcasting to regions like North America, Europe and Australia. These cuts are understandable as in very developed countries people do have other options. But in the developing world SW is still used widely even for domestic broadcasting.

3.  The idea of cutting the BBC World Service Chinese Section on shortwave is very misguided. I was located in China for over eight years, never during that time was I able to log onto the Chinese section of the BBC website. The only way I was able to tune in was on shortwave. Even the English website of the BBC World Service was blocked when very sensitive stories were reported on. A good example would be the case of human rights advocate Liu Xiaobo who was also offered the Nobel Peace Prize and has been under house arrest. During that time I went back to China for a few weeks and all BBC sites were blocked. The Chinese authorities step up jamming against the BBC and other international broadcasters. But the jamming was not very successful and the signal for both the English and Chinese programs was getting through.

4.  There are a number of ways to get around the jamming. Many years ago international broadcasters came up with a way to get around jamming. These plans are still used today and are available online at the website for the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). These plans are what I used to listen to the BBC and other stations. The plans have also been translated in Chinese and are passed to listeners through underground channels.

5.  Finding a SW receiver in China is easy. Tecsun who makes radios for Grundig and other brands also has their own brand radio. Receivers are cheap and are available in every electronic shop in the country. They range in price from 20USD to 100USD. Tecsun from their own sales figures sold nearly over 1 million sets in China alone. In China unlike other countries even domestic stations like China National Radio, and some of the provincial stations use SW to reach the audience. If you turn on a receiver in China you can get upwards to 40+ domestic stations using shortwave. The reason is simple roughly 30% of the country have access to the internet, and if they do websites like the BBC are blocked. So if they want to be informed about what is going on in the world and in China they tune to the BBC and others.

6.  This week I heard Conservative MP Louise Bagshawe on Newshour say that no one listens to shortwave. I would invite her to come with me to Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou, Henan, Inner Mongolia and other areas to see for herself how many people listen to the BBC on shortwave. In the past I have seen over the years people from various governments come to China on "fact finding" tours on who listens to shortwave radio. And from my experience including once asked by the CBC to show them around, not at any point did they visit the rural areas where the vast majority of the population in China live.

7.  Some of those in government talk about the internet as the saviour of international broadcasting. But my question is: If you have phone apps and put more content on the internet. But the internet is blocked by the Great Firewall. Who will listen? There are even many documented cases in areas of China where someone who managed to access the BBC website by using a proxy server was arrested by the Public Security Bureau (PSB Internal Security Police), for accessing the BBC and reading about human rights and other issues the Chinese Communist Party deem off limits to the population.

8.  When I would tune to the BBC on shortwave because of having more than one frequency on air and off tuning my shortwave receiver I had no problem tuning in. Most time reception was just as clear as listening to a local AM station. (if you would like more on this please let me know)

9.  I would like to include an anecdote. When the 2008 8.0 earthquake struck Sichuan I was asked by Radio Netherlands to go to the area to file a report. I had with me my portable Sangean ATS909 shortwave receiver. For five days I was in Wenchuan County one of the areas most devastated by the quake with a death toll of 65,000. At night while I was there I had a number of people that came to me to ask if I had a shortwave radio so they could listen to the BBC to find out what was happening with the relief efforts. The local media in the area was either off air, or reporting with heavy censorship. One evening I had 12 local villagers with me listening to the BBC to hear the latest news on the quake.

10.  To end off. I do understand that the BBC World Service cuts are necessary, and that the BBC must look into the use of new technologies. But at the same time I urge the government to really think carefully at what they are doing. The BBC Chinese service is very important not just for the United Kingdom, but also to those around the world who still do not have access in their own countries to open media. I would suggest the British Government continue with shortwave with multiple frequencies. The BBC World Service is one of the best assets the government has. New and old technologies must co-exist. It is very arrogant to think that the whole world can listen online.

27 January 2011

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Prepared 13 April 2011