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The de-globalisation of the BBC

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Many of us in the Caribbean region are accustomed to the BBC world service radio broadcast.  As a legacy of our colonial past, many of us would remember the scratchy reception that was the BBC news at specific hours of the day in the late 70s and early 80s. 

As a boy that meant about 10 minutes of utmost silence as we took in the latest in world news. The BBC then and now is still regarded as one of the most credible sources of world news. In recent times, the BBC has incorporated the use of new media, such as social networking sites, and has used it established network of news personalities in all parts of the world, to make itself a truly global broadcaster that as its slogan is “covering your world.”   

For example, its popular “World Have Your Say” segment allows for the average person in all parts of the world to air their views in real time on issues of sports, politics, economics, the environment and many other serious issues affecting specific regions of the world. Such programming shows us how small technology has made the world.

The BBC announced in late January 2011, however, that it would cease its broadcast in the region as of March 25. This announcement comes in the wake of a decision by the British government to cut its budget to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office by 33 per cent.What this means is that the BBC, which falls under its purview, must cut its spending by some US$73million (£46 million). 

As a result, its world broadcasting services in Albanian, Macedonian, Portuguese for Africa and Serbian languages; as well as BBC Caribbean service would go silent. The BBC estimates that the axing of these five foreign language services and wholesale retreat from shortwave radio—including the end of broadcast to India, Russia and China—will lead to the loss of more than 30 million listeners, a sixth of the World Service’s global audience of 180 million.    

At a time of global reconfiguration and a restructuring of global hegemonic powers, it is a strong indication yet of the perceived notion of Britain’s retreat as a global political force. Here is an entity that has grown a brand of being one of the most trusted names in news, with an established name and infrastructure in most parts of the world, shutting off a sixth of its worldwide audience for a price that is a fraction of the bonus of British banks.  

The negotiation of the EPA, the desire for Caribbean nations to relinquish its ties with the Privy Council and this BBC closure, are strong signals yet that the UK has long relinquished its role of mother country and have adopted the position that we must all compete as global players on seemingly level terms.

According to David Jessop, director of the Caribbean Council in Europe, “in the view of the British government, it would appear that at a foreign-policy level, the region was not considered significant enough for political intervention; and then at a senior-management level, the feeling was to suggest that the Caribbean Service would not be missed as the region had a complex web of print and broadcast media.”  

Jessop further asserts however that the reality of what would happen next is likely to be somewhat different to what the BBC’s management believes. He sees with the dismantling of its Caribbean Service, its specialist team of independent Caribbean staff, who have become well-known and trusted across the region, will depart, and what little that was left that represented daily regional broadcasting in the Caribbean will disappear forever. 

The reality is a bit more daunting for some areas in Africa, such as Angola and Mozambique, where there is low internet penetration and radio is the main source of information for millions of mainly illiterate people.

In some of theses cases, the BBC is the only source of outside independent information. In similar sentiments, one political analyst in the Balkan sees the closure of the three Balkan language services as a sense of abandonment in the region, and the latest of many signals the British have sent of a very low interest in what is happening in that region. 

While this can be a big blow to many of these mainly poor regions, it can also signal an opportunity for the forging of new links that is devoid of the colonial backbone of Britain. 

When we think of the progress made in communication technology, it might be very possible to reconstruct the same connected values, albeit using newer and different technology. 

Given that there is a structure in place, it might be possible to create a solution that provides a similar value preposition by leveraging social media and online technology, for instance, some sort of Skype or Goggle broadcasting. Granted it would not be a perfect solution, it could be a start towards a newer form of connectedness among developing nations  that can be framed in our mode. Of course, such a move would require political and commercial support, but I am sure some forward- thinking entrepreneur or software designer could fashion a workable model for this.

It can even be forged within the context of a social entrepreneurship venture and established as an NGO within the social sector.  This model might even attract some EU funding. The decision to cease BBC broadcasting to such a large portion of its international market would surely impinge on the corporation’s image as a world service.

Moreover, it would surely affect the perceptions of Britain around the world in the longer term. The void, however, leaves open an opportunity which could possibly be filled with a whole new framework of modern online technologies and social media. Imagine how exciting it would be to have your world connected via a broadcast fed through the convenience of your smart phone. 

Balraj Kistow is a member of faculty, Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business. [email protected]


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