Implications of BBC World Service Cuts - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

Written evidence from Caroline Driscoll

1.  I feel passionately about the World Service, not just because my job could be at risk (I am a studio manager), but because having been out to work in Lagos and seeing people who live under corrugated iron and canvas by the side of the road, listening on little transistor radios to Focus on Africa (one of our programmes) I realise how vital it is. When things kicked off in Darfur, we regularly broadcast a programme called "Darfur Lifeline"—which it was. "New Media" is of absolutely no use to people like that, some have no access to electricity for power. Peter Horrocks (WS Head) admits that he is taking a risk with the foray into mobiles and online, but to people like that it is a waste of time. We are going to lose millions of listeners, not because they no longer want to listen, but because they will no longer be given that option.

2.  In Delhi, Shortwave has 12 million listeners. News on FM is not allowed. This is the same for many regions. The Azeri service broadcasts in shortwave and only about 15% of their audience have access to the internet. Their FM frequencies were cut. These are just two examples of which there are many others, of the need to have free and fair broadcasting available to the masses in these and many other countries.

3.  Talking with colleagues from Iran, Burma, etc and currently Egypt, I have got a good idea of how much these services are needed. When working in Syria, one is only too aware of how restricted the broadcasting is. It has been shown in Egypt that people are being deprived of honest news, by the fact that the Al Jazeera offices were torched, the WS Arabic service reporter was beaten up by the security service personnel and even the state broadcaster, mobile networks and the internet were shut down at one stage.

4.  According to colleagues from some of the Eastern European regions, although allegedly they now have free media, they are apparently run by mafia-type organisations and by their very nature are not as free or transparent as they are supposed to be. People still rely on the World Service for news they can trust.

To summarise:

  • In some regions, the World Service is vital for people to be able to access unbiased news and not state propaganda. It gives them access to free and fair broadcasting.
  • To lose millions of listeners, not because they do not want to listen, but because they will be deprived of the service, is a fallacy, especially when to many, the World Service is the only trustworthy news source available to them via radio. If the state controls the mobile networks and the internet, they are not going to be able to access the "future media" so lauded by Peter Horrocks.
  • The World Service is a respected piece of UK diplomacy across the world and a bastion of quality information distribution.

8 February 2011

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