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'Cultural vandalism' – international response to BBC World Service cuts

24 February 2011

The axe will fall on vital BBC World Service transmissions this week as a result of government funding cuts.

The final broadcasts will be sent from the BBC Portuguese service to Africa, the Spanish Latin American service (BBC Mundo), and the services to Serbia and Albania.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ deputy general secretary, said:

"The importance of the free flow of information in developing and defending democracy is being demonstrated courageously across North Africa and the Middle East right now. It is particularly bizarre and inappropriate to witness an essential international broadcasting institution such as the World Service being torn apart by short-sighted management and government cuts.
"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 reduce funding for such broadcasts. It will damage not only the World Service, but Britain too."

Gustavo Granero, General secretary of the Argentinean Federation of Press Workers (FATPREN) and vice-president of the International Federation of Journalists:

"The BBC holds a special place in our lives. I remember listening to BBC Mundo in my province, Rio Gallegos, in Argentina was a must. The 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 because 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."

Joseph Hanlon, Veteran of 30 years reporting on Africa and visiting fellow at the London School of Economics and the Open University, said:

"The most trusted radio voice in Africa is the BBC, it has won listeners and trust for accuracy and unbiased reporting during five decades of broadcasting.
"The BBC Portuguese service has won listeners 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."

ACTSA, the Southern Africa peace, democracy and development campaigning organisation, said it was dismayed to lose 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."

Misha Glenny, journalist and expert on eastern Europe, said:

"As the BBC Central Europe correspondent at the time the broadcaster set up 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 harassment and physical intimidation – 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, to which I have contributed 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 and 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."

Remzi Lani, the director of the Albanian Media Institute in Tirana, said:

"The news that BBC World Service in Albanian, Serbian, and Macedonian will cease is certainly grim. In 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 this professional and public-oriented information was a highly valuable contribution to the present Albanian society and its broadcasting standards have been a guide for Albanian journalists in their careers.
"Although there is a variety of local media in Albania, the public will certainly miss an important voice in the news chorus by losing the BBC's Albanian programmes. We certainly express our solidarity to colleagues of BBC service in Albania who lost their jobs."

Branislav Čanak, Serbian Media Federation president, 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 by 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."

Dr Dejan Popović, Serbian ambassador to the UK, said:

"I must say we were quite unpleasantly surprised to learn 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 1990s, 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 radio broadcaster, the most listened to and most highly-regarded current affairs programme on our radio waves, a sort of Serbian Today.
"Not only that – this programme is seen as an objective source of news. The wider audience trusts its impartiality, 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."

Sharan Burrow, International Trade Union Confederation general secretary, 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."

Brendan Barber, TUC general secretary, said:

"When I tell my fellow trade union leaders from around the world that the BBC is closing some of its foreign language services they are appalled, and rightly so. The BBC World Service's foreign language programming 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 languages, it does them and the UK an immeasurable service."

John McDonnell MP, NUJ parliamentary group secretary, 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."

Tags: , broadcasting, bbc, cuts, bbc world service, solidarity, cuts, delivering quality first, tuc, radio