Montreal Radio Blog

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

BBC World Service Cuts

The BBC’s shortwave presence is going to all but disappear in the coming few years. Recently, BBC officials announced massive cutbacks and layoffs at the World Service. In making their decision, they argued the need for them to adapt to “new” media. In other words, shortwave is considered expendable. We faced the same issues with cutbacks in Canada at Montreal-based RCI a while ago.

It seems that running the World Service is extremely expensive, which isn’t really surprising. They are being forced to trim about £46 million out of their present budget of £237 million-a-year over the next three years. They estimate the cuts will cost them around 30 million listeners worldwide. Keep in mind, there is no financial profit to be made of that seemingly large amount of people, which of course makes them expendable in the eyes of the BBC.

And when you bring up the concept of new media, it can’t be overemphasised how most shortwave listeners that will be lost do not have access to Internet or cell phones. In many cases, these are extremely impoverished areas of the world. Some are war-torn or under dictatorships. The BBC feed was one of, if not their only sources of un-filtered news and information - sometimes about stuff that was going on in their own backyard. As we have seen in recent years, there are ways to censor TV and the Internet, or even cut off phone service. Shortwave, as old a concept as it might sound, is still one of the most viable ways to broadcast without being censored.

Many people travelling abroad from Europe in particular have also used the BBC service to keep informed when no other means were available. To assume that the Internet is already at the point where all people in all places have equal access is not a fair or accurate statement. But then again, I am not a U.K. tax payer who might have a different opinion as to the viability of spending so much money on a service that does not directly benefit them. In terms of England’s image around the world, the damage of the World Service’s absence might be more substantial.

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