Written evidence from Catherine Westcott,
Senior Frequency Manager, BBC World Service |
- In my opinion, as someone who has worked at the
World Service for many years, with a technical background and
involvement with outside agencies and listeners, the proposed
changes will radically change what the World Service is and does
and who can access it.
- An internal BBC email (5) details my opinion
on dangers of shortwave reduction.
- A flyer demonstrates why shortwave broadcasting
- My recommendations: more funding must be found
to reverse short wave cuts and serious consideration should be
made about returning to direct Government funding for World Service.
1. I have worked for BBC World Service for over
20 years, beginning as a BBC trainee engineer and working on the
maintenance of broadcast equipment and operational programme distribution
in the Control Room. My role now involves overseeing the shortwave
and medium wave scheduling, frequency management and distribution
and also ensuring the needs of World Service and Global News operations
(for whatever platform) are represented in national and international
technical regulatory fora.
2. During my time at BBC World Service I have
worked with many organisations external to the BBC and also been
fortunate to communicate with and sometimes meet our listeners
in places as diverse as Cuba, Pakistan, China, Nigeria and Uzbekistan.
My work has been very varied: I have attended conferences at the
ITU (International Telecommunications Union) both as BBC and also
as part of the UK delegation, given presentations to NATO, trained
Afghan journalists to monitor our shortwave broadcasts and chatted
to refugees about the BBC cricket coverage.
3. I am shocked at the level and detail of the
changes which have been proposed and believe that the World Service
will not survive them. The changes, specifically the massive reductions
to radio distribution will radically change what we do and who
can access us. Our most important audiences, those who are not
so easily represented in audience data and who do not have a voice
than can be heard via social media, will be further dispossessed.
I also think that it is disingenuous to suggest that our listeners
will be more comfortable knowing that World Service is being paid
for by the UK public via the licence fee. BBC World Service is
consistently voted the most trusted of all the international broadcasters.
Our international listeners do not appear to be uncomfortable
with us being funded directly by the Government.
4. I submit 2 documents which may contain useful
information. The first is a copy of an email I sent to our senior
management in November outlining my concerns about any reductions
to our short wave broadcasting (copied below). The second is a
flyer I wrote in 2007 to help our representations at the ITU for
extra short wave spectrum.
- More funding is required to reverse the reductions
to short wave and retain the WS audience and reputation.
- Consider the long-term benefit to UK Government
of returning the WS to direct Government funding.
5. EMAIL SENT
|Sent:||08 November 2010 16:37
|To:||Peter Horrocks & Assistant; Jim Egan; Liliane Landor; Craig Oliver
|Cc:||Richard Porter & PA
|Subject:||Reduction of short wave broadcasting
Dear Peter, Jim, Liliane and Craig,
I realise this is a time of tough choices about where savings
can be made, but feel I would not be doing my job if I did not
make you all aware of some of my concerns around the extent of
the reduction to short wave broadcasting which may be being considered.
I recently wrote a paper for the World Service Management Board
"Options for the future distribution and consumption of World
Service radio" having spent six months working with Strategy
looking at developments in radio globally and the distribution
of broadcasting content generally. The conclusions I reached about
digital terrestrial radio were based on an assessment that alternative
delivery methods (satellite, internet via fixed or mobile) will
not for the foreseeable future deliver a platform that equals
that provided by broadcast (universal global access, reliability,
limited influence of gatekeepers ie cost and control): "Although
analogue will persist in some form in many areas, the evolution
of digital radio around the world is likely to be the key to broadcast
radio retaining any significant audience." This assessment
was based on the different audiences that can be reached by FM,
medium wave and short wave broadcasting.
I can see that reductions in our shortwave delivery are necessary
in the context of savings spread across all areas and to recognise
the change in listening habits for some audiences. However, I
want to caution against too drastic a cut across the board too
soon, based what may be a short-term view of technical and political
landscapes and current audience behaviour.
Latest audience figures still show the radio audience to be 90%
of the any-platform WS audience and the shortwave audience to
be 53% of the radio audience (47% of the any-platform audience).
That still equates to a total of 85 million listeners on shortwave.
As far as I am aware, it is not possible to find evidence of a
global trend in short wave decline. There is measured decline
in specific countries but these trends do not apply everywhere.
Even taking any "best guess" overall rate of decline
into consideration, short wave is likely to retain a significant
audience for some yearsunless most of our shortwave is
closed down. In that case, how likely is it that other platforms
can step in and deliver similar audience sizes and constituencies?
Latest figures from the International Telecommunications Union
(ITU) show significant disparity in the growth of internet users
between different global regions and this is even more pronounced
with mobile broadband subscriptions. The World Summit on Information
Technology (WSIS) conference has set targets to "bridge the
digital divide" which recognise the role of more rational
platforms ("to ensure that all of the world's population
have access to television and radio services" a target
which "specifically addresses the need to take advantage
of broadcasting technologies to help countries move towards the
Efforts to retain radio audiences have remained focussed on the
development of FM broadcasting but opportunities here may have
now plateau-ed. In this context, the potential offered by DRM
on shortwave may offer us the only way to retain a significant
audience. Crucially it also offers what analogue short wave does:
access to audiences we cannot otherwise serve, freedom from political
interference and licensing costs. In South Asia, recent losses
in short wave audiences have followed increased availability of
more attractive media alternatives. However, in India, the Government
has given political and financial support to the digitalisation
of radio broadcasting (seen as necessity), adopted DRM and tasked
All India Radio to work on its growth and development. In this
context, we could be only a few years away from a significant
audience for digital radio (on short wave) in India.
Our current shortwave transmissions have a value over and above
the use for the current analogue delivery because the facilities
used are broadly the same for analogue or digital. It is possible
to use the same frequencies; and the same sites, transmitters
and arrays can be used once they have been enabled to carry digital
rather than analogue transmissions. Short wave is regulated by
co-ordination of frequency use and "ownership" is afforded
by presence on air rather than any licensing. In common with other
spectrum, valuable frequencies (low band in Europe, peak time
in Africa, ME, S Asia, SE Asia) are keenly contested and usually
snapped up when they become available. The removal of analogue
transmissions where there may be a digital audience in future,
could jeopardise any future opportunity for us.
A very significant reduction of our shortwave schedule very soon
runs the risk of large audience losses which will be challenging
to build back via other platforms and also of taking away a clear
advantage which we currently hold in terms a future platform.
Even given the situation we find ourselves in financially, I would
suggest a cautious approach with short wave, where we ensure retention
of both audiences and strategic analogue footholds for at least
another one or two years until we can see a clearer picture of
the development of DRM and ability of alternative platforms to
replicate our current analogue radio audience. The BBC World Service
has always been a leader in the delivery and content of international
broadcasting and with this approach I think we could remain so.
8 February 2011
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