LONDON: To meet a government-mandated 16 percent funding cut, the BBC
World Service is eliminating five languages, ending radio distribution for
seven more and slashing medium- and shortwave radio distribution in favor of
FM, TV, online and new media.
Over the next three years, 650 out of a total 2,400 BBCWS jobs will be chopped.
The cuts will amount to an annual savings of £46 million (about $74 million) by
April 2014, at which point the BBCWS’s funding will be switched from
governmental grants through the Foreign Office to the same domestic license fee
that funds BBC services across the United Kingdom.
“There will be the complete closure of five language services--Albanian,
Macedonian, Portuguese for Africa and Serbian languages; as well as the English
for the Caribbean regional service,” stated BBC Global News Director Peter
Horrocks when he announced the cuts to BBCWS staff on Jan. 26, 2011.
“BBC World Service will cease all radio programming--focusing instead, as
appropriate, on online, mobile and television content and distribution--in the
following languages: Azeri, Mandarin Chinese (note that Cantonese radio
programming continues), Russian (save for some programs which will be
distributed online only), Spanish for Cuba, Turkish, Vietnamese, and
Ukrainian,” he continued.
Of all the BBCWS distribution platforms, it is radio that is being hit hardest
by the cuts. Over the next three years, “there will be a phased reduction in
medium-wave and shortwave throughout the period,” Horrocks said. “English
language shortwave and medium-wave broadcasts to Russia and the former Soviet
Union are planned to end in March 2011. The 648 kHz medium-wave service
covering Western Europe and southeastern England is ending on March 27, 2011.”
That’s not all: “BBC World Service will cease all shortwave distribution of
radio content in March 2011 in Hindi, Indonesian, Kyrgyz, Nepali, Swahili and
the Great Lakes service (for Rwanda and Burundi),” he added.
“Shortwave broadcasts in remaining languages other than English are expected to
end by March 2014 with the exception of a small number of ‘lifeline’ services
such as Burmese and Somali.”
[Since this article was first published in the March 2011 international edition
Radio World, some modifications to
the cuts have been announced, most notably the preservation of an hour of Hindi
programming each night. -Ed.]
The BBCWS’ cuts--which are expected to cut more than 30 million from BBCWS’s
weekly audience of 180 million--were not made in a vacuum, said Mike Gardner;
head of corporate communications for BBC Global News.
The decisions were based on “geo-political importance, need for information and
current and potential audience impact and available funding,” Gardner said. “Given
the increasing costs of maintaining impact across a wide range of services, we
have to prioritize.”
Andy Sennitt, longtime shortwave radio watcher and editor in charge at the
Radio Netherlands “Media Network” website, said: “British Foreign Secretary
William Hague told Parliament that the BBC had initially submitted proposals to
close 13 language services, including Persian, but he had refused to sanction
these. So what was announced on 26th January is a revised plan, in which cuts
are spread across more departments.”
Whatever the motivation for the specific cuts, the BBCWS choices make “some
sense” to Kim Andrew Elliott, audience research analyst with the U.S.
International Broadcasting Bureau, which oversees Voice of America.
“Domestic media in the Balkans are far from perfect, but perhaps free enough
that BBC no longer felt it had a sufficient role there,” he said. “For
Portuguese to Africa, domestic media are freer and fairly successful.... In the
languages where shortwave will be cut, shortwave has become a small part of the
audience, relative to placement of BBC programs on domestic stations in the
target country,” Elliott said.
There is no doubt that the world has changed since the Cold War, when the BBCWS
and other international broadcasters dominated the shortwave bands. In
particular, satellite television and the Internet have ended shortwave’s
monopoly on global distribution.
At the same time, shortwave is the only one of these three media that cannot be
easily blocked by hostile governments.
For this reason the BBCWS’s decision to move out of shortwave concerns Jeff
White, general manager of the U.S. commercial shortwave station Radio Miami
“My question is, who are people going to listen to when there’s a crisis in
Egypt and the Internet is cut off?” he asked. “Who will they listen to when
there’s an earthquake in Haiti or Indonesia where local radio stations are
knocked off the air? Who will people in Cuba listen to when the BBC ends its
Spanish shortwave service to Cuba?”
Elliott echoes White’s concerns, but only to a degree.
The BBCWS, he said, “will need a way to get through to target countries where
the Internet is blocked, satellite dishes banned and local rebroadcasting of
BBC programs not allowed. That would seem a job for shortwave. It is, however,
difficult to convince people who have access to television and the Internet,
even if they are censored, to go back to shortwave.”
-- from Radio World