Written evidence from Sam Miller |
- My name is Sam Miller. I am a former manager
at the BBC World Service who now works as a journalist and writer
- I have specialist knowledge of the Indian media
market, and have travelled very widely throughout India over the
last five years.
- I deplore the decision to cut the funding of
World Service at a time when "soft power" is increasingly
recognised as a hugely effective means of diplomacy and with few
of the risks associated with more heavy-handed foreign policy
- More specifically I deplore the decision to cut
BBC Hindi service radio with its current audience of 10 million,
saving just £750,000 p.a., at a time when British foreign
policy is emphasising a wider and deeper engagement at all levels
1. I have spent much of the last five years travelling
around India, training Indian journalists and working on an all-India
guidebook. During this period I met many listeners to the BBC
Hindi service radio.
2. In the early 1990s I was a BBC correspondent
in Delhi and from 1997 to 2004 I was managing editor, South Asia
at BBC World Service. I am the author of Delhi: Adventures
in a Megacity which was published in 2009 in India, the UK
and the USA.
3. Despite the explosive growth of TV in urban
India over the last decade, large sections of the Indian population
remain poorly served by the media. The more than 10 million regular
listeners to Hindi broadcasts of the BBC are largely drawn from
4. Among the key sections of the population with
a much higher than average audience to Hindi radio programming
are those who do not have easy access to TV sets, TV signals or
a regular electricity supply.
5. These include Indian armed forces and paramilitaries
working in sensitive locations, student hostels, people preparing
for Indian administrative service entrance examsand the
Hindi broadcasts have a special importance for a wide range of
people who are travelling, including journalists, bureaucrats
6. The BBC Hindi programmes also reach large
numbers of listeners in areas affected by Maoist-inspired violence
in central India. This violence was described by the Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh as the most serious threat facing his country.
Former BBC listeners are likely to switch to other foreign radio
stations broadcasting in Hindiof which the most important
are Radio China International and, among Muslim listeners, Voice
7. The only domestic radio competition to the
BBC outside the cities is the state-controlled All India Radio
which has a very low reputation for its news and current affairs,
and is seen as a government mouthpiece. BBC Hindi radio's reputation
is almost entirely based on its unbiased coverage of news and
8. Elsewhere, BBC audiences have been encouraged
to migrate to newer media technologies. The nature of these cuts
for Hindi radio means they will not have an opportunity to do
so. The listeners affected, who listen on shortwave, do not have
reliable Internet or TV services, and therefore will not be able
to access the BBC any longerat all.
9. The BBC's name and reputation in Hindi has
been built up over more than 50 years. The decision to cut the
service to provide savings of £750K p.a. will entail throwing
away, overnight, the benefits of these 50 years of investments.
10. The existence of BBC Hindi broadcasts also
gives the BBC's English-language broadcasts a depth and access
that they would otherwise not have. Politiciansparticularly
from the Hindi-speaking northknow and interact most with
the BBC through the Hindi service. Hindi service radio had a wide
range of local part-time correspondents and information suppliers
who also provide critical inputs to the rest of the BBC.
11. The closure of Hindi service radio would
be a major blow to the WS service as whole, reducing its audience,
instantaneously, by more than 10 million.
12. Overall, it is appropriate that the BBC World
Service be held accountable for the decisions it makes and priorities
it sets forth. And these will, on occasion, involve a reprioritisation
which involves the closing of less-effective services. However,
effective services with large audiences in places which are focus
areas for British foreign policy should not be candidates for
13. Furthermore, there is case to be made for
actually increasing the World Service grant in a period of austerity,
since it provides more cost-effective "soft power" engagements,
than often risky resource-heavy larger-scale diplomatic interventions.
9 February 2011