Protest over closure of BBC World Service radio in Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe
Free and independent news and information is essential in developing and defending democracy, the latest example is demonstrated courageously across North Africa and the Middle East right now. In this context, it is bizarre and inappropriate for the British government to axe essential parts of the international broadcasting institution which is the BBC World Service.
The axe will fall on vital BBC World Service transmissions this week as a result of government funding cuts. The final broadcasts will take place on Friday 25 February from the BBC Portuguese service to Africa, the Spanish Latin American service (BBC Mundo), and the services to Serbia and Albania.
The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) in the UK has reacted angrily to the announcement that international services and jobs are to be lost through the cuts programme.
NUJ Deputy General Secretary, Michelle Stanistreet said: “The importance of the free flow of information in developing and defending democracy is being demonstrated so courageously across North Africa and the Middle East right now. It is particularly bizarre and inappropriate to witness an essential international broadcasting institution like the World Service being torn apart through short-sighted management and government cuts.
“These cuts are caused by the government slashing funding to an internationally respected and successful broadcaster. Journalists and other BBC employees are rightly angered at the destruction being caused to a broadcasting service of which the UK should be proud.
“The BBC World Service has 180 million radio listeners - representing one in every 25 adults in the world and the government should not impose cuts in funding for such broadcasts. The National Union of Journalists believes the cuts to the BBC World Service radio broadcasts will damage not only the World Service but the cuts will damage Britain too.”
General Secretary of the Argentinean Federation of Press Workers (FATPREN) and Vice President of the International Federation of Journalists, Gustavo Granero said: "The BBC holds a special place in our lives. I remember listening to the BBC Mundo in my province, Rio Gallegos, in Argentina was a must. BBC always marked the agenda on the main events and we cannot lose an international service. The closure of BBC Mundo is not just a concern for the UK. It matters to all of us as it affects all our societies that demand quality information. Just as in Chile media owners and government have done little to save a voice and defend informative pluralism, the same seems to occur today with the BBC. We stand by our colleagues at BBC Mundo and the NUJ and saddened by this blow to journalism and public service".
Speaking from Mozambique after 30 years reporting on Africa, journalist and visiting fellow at the LSE & Open University, Joseph Hanlon said: “The most trusted radio voice in Africa is the BBC, it has won listeners and trust for accuracy and unbiased reporting over five decades of broadcasting.
“The BBC Portuguese service has won listeners here in Mozambique, particularly on FM. Whereas Britain is increasing its aid to Mozambique, it is better known for the BBC, and closing the BBC Portuguese for Africa service will be seen by many here as withdrawing from Mozambique.
“The relatively inexpensive Portuguese for Africa service has made Britain much better known in Mozambique than its much more expensive aid programme.”
Southern Africa campaigning organisation ACTSA said they are dismayed with the decision to close the BBC World Service Portuguese for Africa broadcasts and urged the BBC and the government to reverse this decision. The World Service’s broadcasts in the languages spoken in the countries of southern Africa play an important role in informing and educating, bringing impartial and dependable news and promoting democracy to millions of people in southern Africa.
Expert on Eastern Europe and journalist, Misha Glenny said: “As the BBC Central Europe Correspondent at the time of the establishment of its Albanian-language service in the early 1990s, I found it especially tragic and ironic that the BBC announced its closure of the service just as a major political crisis erupted in the Albanian capital, Tirana. Last month’s clashes between opposition protestors and the government-backed police resulted in the deaths of four innocent men.
"Journalists and their media outlets in Albania and Kosovo are regularly subjected to forms of harassment and physical intimidation and an end to the BBC Albanian-language service will reduce their protection and ability to report accurately and objectively about their respective country still further.
“The BBC Serbian service which I have contributed to for many years is a gold standard for journalists working in Serbia. It was the invaluable outlet for Serbs and non-Serbs alike during the dark days of the Milosevic period. But its importance remains, above all because Serbia is involved in an unresolved constitutional dispute with Kosovo. This issue incites intense passions on both sides of the national divide. The Serbian service has unflinchingly reported truths which have confounded nationalists and demagogues. Its demise is deeply upsetting.
"Beyond this, the background to the cuts in these services is still more disturbing. In negotiations over cuts held before Christmas, the BBC agreed to take over the costs of running the World Service which has until now been funded separately by the so-called Grant-in-Aid of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It is highly likely that in the coming years the combination of operational issues and disquiet of the licence fee payers will place immense pressure on the viability of the World Service. In terms of value, there is nothing that begins to compare with the respect that this broadcaster generates across the world. At a time when Britain’s ability to influence events on the world appears to be in decline, the risk of throwing away the incomparable reputation of the BBC World Service is one that only the most short-sighted government would take.”
The Director of the Albanian Media Institute in Tirana, Remzi Lani said: “The news that BBC World Service in Albanian, Serbian, and Macedonia will cease their activity is certainly a grim one. In these 18 years, BBC World Service in Albanian has been a most valuable and credible source of information, reporting on relevant and sensitive issues with significant professionalism. Providing professional and public-oriented information, as the BBC did, was a highly valuable contribution to the present Albanian society, in the same way that BBC's standards have been considered a guide for Albanian journalists in their careers. Although there are a variety of local media in Albania, the public will certainly miss an important voice in the whole news chorus by losing BBC's World Service programmes in Albanian. We certainly express our solidarity to colleagues of BBC service in Albania, who lost their jobs."
Serbian Media Federation President, Branislav Canak said: “We are concerned to hear the news that the BBC World service for Serbia will be stopped. That service has had an enormously important role in the struggle of Serbian society for peace and democracy during the Milosevic era, but also today, when Serbia still stumbles over the remnants of the past and lacks vision to progress. From the point of view of the journalist profession, the Service was an obvious example that professionalism is possible even when reporting highly sensitive political, economic and social issues. The Service was staffed with just a few people, so it is really hard to understand how the halting of the broadcast would positively affect funding. We have for years had a personal attachment to the BBC Serbian Service: one of the reporters working for the Service for 18 years now, Slobodan Stupar, was one of the founders and the first president of our Trade Union Confederation NEZAVISNOST. I send our most sincere solidarity to you from both from the Confederation and one of its Federations.”
Serbian Ambassador to the UK, Dr Dejan Popovic said: “I must say we were quite unpleasantly surprised upon learning that the BBC World Service had decided to close down its Serbian section, given both its importance in the region and the moment in time when the decision was brought. The BBC in Serbian, as it is known to us, is widely respected across the region – its reputation in Serbia was hugely augmented in the 90s, when it was one of few free voices, bringing reason and objectivity to what in fact were insane times. Today it co-produces, together with the well-known B92, the most listened to and most highly-regarded current affairs programme on our radio waves, a sort of Serbian Today. And not only that – it is seen as an objective source of news, with the wider audience trusting its impartiality, which is still seen as its trademark, which is especially important in transitional countries, where there are always rumours about financial interests running news agenda.
“While we do understand the need for cuts to be made, we cannot but wonder whether this is the right time to make them in the Balkan media sphere. It is true that the Balkans are not problematic any more, but a slow and painful process of reconciliation is currently underway, one which can only benefit from an insightful, yet impartial analysis, which the BBC in Serbian was incessantly delivering.
“Also, one should bear in mind that not all processes in the Balkans are in their final stages – some, like our dialogue with Pristina, are yet to begin. The role the media will play in that process will be of crucial importance, steering the public along the way – I believe that both Serbian and Albanian sections, would be of enormous help in setting the tone on the media scene.”
International Trade Union Confederation General Secretary, Sharan Burrow said: "Trade unionists and other supporters of freedom of expression around the world rely on the BBC World Service for facts instead of propaganda, news instead of ignorance, a voice for the unwillingly silent.
"Shutting down that voice is an act of sheer vandalism. It leaves the BBC - and the cause of freedom - diminished and bereft."
TUC General Secretary, Brendan Barber said: “When I tell my fellow trade union leaders from around the world that the BBC is closing down some of its foreign language services, they are appalled, and rightly so. The BBC World Service’s foreign language broadcasting is a crucial contribution to excellence in broadcasting, it improves people’s lives and at the same time acts as an ambassador for the UK.
"Most importantly, trade unionists from countries with recent experience of dictatorships recall how, when their own government denied them the freedom to speak out, the BBC spoke for them. The BBC World Service speaks truth not just to power, but to the people, and when it does so in their own language, it does them and the UK an immeasurable service.”
NUJ Parliamentary Group Secretary, John McDonnell said: “We will all live to regret this act of cultural vandalism from a government that knows the price of everything but the value of nothing”
The NUJ have organised a public meeting to defend the BBC World Service for Tuesday 15 March in the House of Commons, committee room 14, starting at 6.30pm.
For more information about the campaign please email: