Implications of BBC World Service Cuts - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents


Written evidence from Rajesh Joshi, Rajesh Priyadarshi and Marianne Landzettel

IMPACT OF THE PLANS TO END BBC WORLD SERVICE HINDI TRANSMISSIONS

ABOUT US

This submission was written by Rajesh Joshi, Special Correspondent/Presenter, BBC Hindi Service, Delhi.
Rajesh Priyadarshi, Desk Editor, Hindi Service, London.
Marianne Landzettel, South Asia Desk Editor, BBC World Service, London

SUMMARY

1.  Under the current proposals the BBC Hindi Service will cease to broadcast on short-wave from 1 April. The BBC programmes in Hindi have at least 10 million dedicated listeners, most of them in rural and often very poor areas, who will lose an essential, if not their only source of unbiased, accurate information, especially in critical situations.

2.  The BBC Hindi Service is cost effective. It produces two-and-a-half hours of programmes a day. Hindi short-wave transmission costs £130,000 p.a. that is just over half the annual salary of a BBC director of global news.

3.  The BBC World Service in Hindi is a way for Britain to talk to more than 10 million Indians in their own language. Closing this effective channel of communication will come at a time when the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, states that the trade and commercial relations between Britain and India are of paramount importance.

4.  Short-wave radio cannot be censored by Indian regulatory authorities. At its best the World Service can challenge corruption, expose human rights abuses and promote democratic values. In India only the BBC Hindi Service on short wave cannot be taken off air by the government—even at times of crisis.

5.  FM broadcasts cannot replace BBC Hindi on short-wave because the Indian government does not permit news and current affairs programmes by international broadcasters on FM frequencies.

6.  Computer use cannot replace BBC Hindi on short-wave: Most of the 10 million listeners in India live in rural and often remote areas and have no regular access to a computer. Computers in rural areas—to the extent they do exist—usually are very old and the internet can only be accessed through extremely slow dial up connections, far too slow to access websites with pictures and completely unsuitable for audio or video content.

Who listens to BBC Hindi short-wave radio?

7.  Millions in India listen to (sometimes) crackly short-wave broadcasts for one good reason: It's the only non-commercial, balanced, global and unregulated broadcast available in India. Politicians and other opinion leaders value this quality. India's main opposition party's spokesman, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, called the closure "unfortunate" because the service has "major impact on India's politics". (Asian Age, 27 January 2011)
http://www.asianage.com/india/after-60-yrs-bbc-shut-its-hindi-service-294

8. People living in remote areas or in troubled regions see BBC Hindi radio as nothing less then a lifeline service and since the announcement of the cut of the service was made they have told us so:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/hindi/multimedia/2011/02/110204_indiabol_audio.shtml
Eg Anil from Faridabad: "There may be various television channels who telecast live pictures but the BBC Hindi coverage is different. I will give you an example: when an Indian airplane was hijacked in 1999 and taken to Kandahar, all channels covered it but I still remember it that we got the true picture from the BBC Hindi. I wonder what will happen to us from 1 April!"

9. In Kashmir or in Maoist controlled jungles of Indian states like Chattisgarh army officers and rebels listen to the BBC Hindi service (not All India Radio) as the only trustworthy source of information. ("After dinner, I unzip my sleeping bag. It's a strange intrusive sound, the big zip. Someone puts on the radio. BBC Hindi service. The Church of England has withdrawn its funds from Vedanta's Niyamgiri project, citing environmental degradation and rights violations of the Dongria Kondh tribe. I can hear cowbells, snuffling, shuffling, and cattle-farting. All's well with the world. My eyes close." Quote from Arundhati Roy's piece in Outlook magazine: 29 March 2010.
http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?264738)

Many Indians remember that the Hindi service more than once has been a life line—for example during communal riots in 1991-92 during the Ayodhya dispute: "We were living in the Walled City, the whole town was under curfew, and had been handed over to the army. BBC was our only link with the world outside" (A listener quoted in Outlook magazine: 14 Feb 2011
http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?270321)

10.  Millions of Indians connect to Britain and its values through the BBC Hindi Service. The influence that the BBC enjoys across India is deeply rooted and long-standing. In news and current affairs the BBC is the biggest and most respected name in India. The BBC Hindi Service continues to play a crucial role in reinforcing the value of the BBC as a brand as it has for generations of Indians. Their trust in the Hindi service and loyalty to it lets them naturally switch to BBC English (on all its platforms) once they are ready to do so. Or as a popular saying has it: Even those who do not know the A B C know the B B C.
http://blogs.ft.com/beyond-brics/2011/01/30/india-britain-losing-its-voice/

THE IMPACT OF THE SHORT-WAVE CLOSURE IN INDIA

11.  The closure of short-wave transmission means that 10 million people lose access to an essential source of unbiased, accurate information, especially in critical situations for a saving of just £600,000.

12.  Closure means "no news" for the millions who depended on the short-wave radio service.

  • People in remote areas or conflict zones where there is no electricity.
  • People in rural areas where power cuts can last for hours and even days: A listener says he travels 16 km to the nearest town to get his mobile phone recharged as there is no electricity in his village in Rajasthan (BBC India Bol (interactive phone-in programme on 01.02.2011); short-wave receivers work with readily available batteries.
  • Poor people, who come together in groups to listen to the BBC Hindi programmes via a short-wave radio that is someone's prized possession. (Outlook link see above—and
    http://www.eurasiareview.com/analysis/closure-of-bbc-radio-service-information-era-tragedy-05022011/).
  • Illiterate people to whom websites are of little use.
  • Young people in rural India, going to school or college, listen to BBC Hindi in order to prepare for competitive exams. They are the future leaders of India.

BBC services that are only accessible via the internet are not an option for any of the above groups.

13.  The closure betrays dedicated listeners, runs counter to geopolitical trends, and is destroying trust in the BBC as a British brand in an important country like India. BBC's Delhi office has been flooded with letters and inundated with phone calls of listeners expressing their deep disappointment and often desperation.

14.  The Hindi service has a wide network of reporters across India. Their output is vital to all BBC output and across platforms:

  • They file news stories.
  • They verify wire copy—so nothing goes on air in the World Service that has not been properly sourced.
  • They provide actuality, pictures and videos.
  • Most of them are bi-lingual and file in English as well.
  • They facilitate interviews.
  • And if there is "breaking news" from India, chances are that a journalist in the Hindi service has filed the first piece of copy ahead of the wire services.

It will be felt across the BBC output when this precious source of information is lost or greatly diminished. In particular at a time when news agencies are reducing their network of stringers and are only operating offices in cities like Delhi and Mumbai.

If the BBC in future has little news about and from India it's not because it's not happening!

15.  The decision to close down Hindi short-wave broadcasts is perceived by decision makers in India as waning of British influence—in India and around the world. The MP Chandan Mitra is one of those who voiced this opinion in a newspaper article (http://www.dailypioneer.com/314004/Along-with-an-era-an-illusion-too-ends.html). After Prime Minister David Cameron travelled to India to directly appeal to Indian businesses, the cuts mean that a vital line of communication is severed and the BBC as a valued and trusted British brand is irreversibly damaged.

16.  With the closure of BBC Hindi radio on short-wave, Britain stands to lose goodwill among millions of people in India, earned over more than six decades through impartiality and fairness.

AND THE WAY FORWARD

17.  We urge the government to think again about the damaging proposals inflicted on the BBC World Service and the disproportionate effect this has on BBC Hindi: the loss of 10 million listeners for savings of a mere £600,000.

Foreign Secretary William Hague announced he is allocating £58.5 million of Foreign Office spending in the coming year "for the support of democratic values, human rights and British diplomatic influence overseas". Perhaps some of this money could be used to keep the BBC Hindi Service on air.

8 February 2011


 
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Prepared 13 April 2011