Implications of the BBC World Service Cuts

Written evidence from Graham Mytton

I was for many years in charge of all audience research, including measurement of audiences worldwide at the BBC Wold Service. I did that job from 1982 to 1998. Since then I have continued in this field as an independent consultant doing research for the BBC, other broadcasters and carrying out research projects in Africa, Asia and Europe.

I have a lot of information on WS audiences and also on the continued vital importance and strength of shortwave delivery. The cuts in shortwave are very unwise and will damage the BBC in achieving what it has done so well for many years.

The problem is that I will be away in Bangladesh on business from march 1st to 8th an then on holiday in India from 8th to 20th. The announcement on the website does not say when exactly you will be meeting. I will write a short piece as suggested on the website but you may want to cross question me about what I say. Will this be possible?

I do not want to blow my own trumpet. My only interest in this matter is that Members of Parliament should know the facts. The BBC has them but one thing that has happened, and I don’t like, it is that the BBC does not always let outsiders know everything that they should. My policy was always to try to make as much evidence about audiences very widely available to scholars, MPs, journalists and others – both the good news and the not so good or actually bad news. In the press and in other media there has been a lot of misinformation about WS and its audiences and also, and perhaps especially about shortwave. One fact that is often forgotten is that shortwave is very difficult to block. It is actually the only truly reliable way to get through to anyone anywhere without governments being able to stop it. They can jam, but it is never entirely effective and in our experience it may actually often increase listening. The Internet can be blocked and so also can mobile phones. This has happened over the past few days in Egypt and of course it happens all the time in China.

But, and here is the blowing trumpet bit, I am widely recognised as someone who knows a lot more than most about global audiences for the BBC and all other international broadcasters. Google my name and you will find adequate confirmation of this.  It is my life and work and has been for the past 30 years or so. I would like you to consider the facts and I worry that you won’t get these from the BBC. It remains a great British institution but over the past ten or fifteen years it has become increasingly secretive and it spins information far too much. I think that Peter Horrocks is the best leader the World Service has had since John Tusa. But he has far less idea of the facts than many of his predecessors. He came from a domestic TV background and has little experience yet of the global situation. He knows little or nothing about the conditions under which shortwave is a vital link, often in the very places where reliable information is otherwise impossible to get. He is right to point to the importance of other platforms like the Internet and even more so mobile phones, not to mention local FM relays and rebroadcasters. When I was still at the BBC I pushed hard for these to be taken more seriously. But they are not an alternative to shortwave in many markets. And besides, they can always be cut at any time by government edict. This has happened many times -, in both Congos, in Ivory Coast, Sri Lanka, Nigeria  and too many others to list. In my attached article, written for the Guardian Media section but still not published,  Il show that shortwave is not "in decline" as many commentators have said too often. It declines in some places but only when the local media become freer. The decline in shortwave has little or nothing to do with the technology as such but about people the world over using whatever they have to hand to get what they want to know. Shortwave could be dead in a country but then suddenly become a vital link when things go badly wrong. This has happened more times over the past 30 years than I can easily count.

I have data on shortwave access and use in more than 100 countries and I can make these available to you.

In summary these are the main points about the cuts, not all of which are in the Guardian piece. I can elaborate on any of them if required:

- The cuts are the most damaging ever in BBC WS history.

- The estimate of 30 million audience loss is an under-estimate because so many of the audiences affected have not been measured

§ – especially Portuguese to Africa . NB the BBC audience is only partially measured. No rural areas of Angola have been measured. The measurement in Mozambique is only partial. The three other lusophone African countries have never been measured.

§ Arabic Service audiences in remoter rural areas are not wholly measured in the BBC’s database (but I have them for example in Darfur where the shortwave audience is huge) Remember! Arabic shortwave coverage is being drastically cut back.

- Shortwave is not "in decline" It still accounts for 53% of the global radio audience. This is despite the massive cuts in shortwave to help fund new platforms.

- Shortwave is a vital emergency backup service that comes into its own when other platforms are blocked, as often happens

- Macedonian and Albanian still have large audiences, as also does Portuguese for Africa. The former may be closed soon as political circumstances in both countries improve but now is not the time to close them

- The cuts to Hindi on shortwave (entirely gone in the proposals) are very unwise at this moment. There remains a large audience for Hindi programmes although there has been some decline in recent years

With all good wishes for the enquiry. This is a vitally important issue for the UK and the world! Get it right and generations will thank you.

14 February 2011