Implications of the BBC World Service Cuts

Written evidence from Ian Mitchell


· The BBC should not abandon medium and short wave transmissions in the way proposed.

· The BBC should retain a skeleton broadcast news service in the languages it proposes to drop.

My background:

I was a journalist employed by BBC Radio News – the domestic national newsroom - from 1967 until 1991 and was a BBC foreign correspondent in the 1970s. After retirement I was a consultant at the World Service newsroom. More recently I have worked for the Central Office of Information / Government News Network.


1. News provided by the BBC World Service comes into its own at times of crisis – the recent events in the Arab world are an excellent example. It is at these times that the BBC’s reputation for accuracy and impartiality is most valued by listeners and viewers.

2. It is also at these times that governments in crisis areas cut links to the internet, block mobile phones and suspend relays of BBC programmes on local FM radio stations.

3. This leaves only direct broadcasting on short wave, medium wave or satellite as the means of reaching the audience.

4. In times of turmoil or when people are on the move, satellite reception can become impracticable. All that is then left is direct terrestial transmission on short or medium wave.

5. In the poorer areas of the world, the only affordable means of receiving the BBC for many people is in any case a portable radio. (Even in the Australian state of Queensland during the recent weather emergency television viewers were advised to be ready to tune to short wave radio as the only reliable means of keeping in touch with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s news service).

6. I urge the Committee to ask the BBC not to abandon medium and short wave transmission in the way that is proposed but to maintain a skeleton service on these wavelengths.

7. Abandoning foreign language services is a short-sighted policy. It loses that part of the audience whose command of English is limited and these listeners and viewers then turn to rival, less reliable sources. It also disperses a team with background knowledge of the target area of great value to the rest of the BBC. More importantly, if the service needs to be reinstated as a result of sudden political changes in the target area it will be most difficult to re-constitute within a reasonable time frame.

8. I urge the committee to ask the BBC to retain a skeleton broadcast news service in the languages it proposes to drop so that audiences are not lost permanently. This would retain the capability of expanding the service in an emergency.

6 February 2011