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The role of the BBC World Service in our lives

This week Suti focuses on the BBC…

The BBC world service last month confirmed plans to close five of its 32 World Service language services. According to Mr Thompson, the director general of the BBC, the cuts were necessary due to last autumn’s Spending Review. The recent plans will effectively end the radio programming in seven languages – Azeri (the official language of Azerbaijan), Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Spanish (for Cuba), Turkish, Vietnamese and Ukrainian.  Though personally not affected, I do share the grief of the regular listeners of the BBC in the above languages.

My association with the BBC dates back to the early days of my childhood. As a child growing up in a public boarding school in India, listening to the BBC world service news was a part of our daily routine. We had to listen to the BBC world news before breakfast. It didn’t really matter whether we understood global affairs or not, but the house master, like most of the teachers, felt listening to the BBC was absolutely necessary to improve our English!

As the Indian

media boomed in the mid 1990s bringing along a plethora of private English and other language news channels, the BBC radio service’s popularity dwindled. However, the BBC radio service remained intimately strong with the older generation. I remember my neighbour, a lanky old fellow who would listen to the world service news on his crackling transistor that he has been using for half a century.  He would often proudly say how the BBC was the first one to broadcast the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the Indian Prime Minister in 1984, hours before the Indian media did. Clearly for a man who probably never moved out of his home state, the BBC shaped his vision of the world and global events throughout his life.

As I grew up and went to the university to study journalism, the BBC remained for me and my friends a model for its credible editorial and impartial news. We thought the simplicity of the BBC website and its adaptation of other aspects of the digital are simply remarkable.

In a global context, the BBC has also been a powerful tool for public diplomacy over the word and played a very important role for millions in shaping outlook and perception of some of the universal values like democracy, freedom and human rights. The BBC regional services get into territories and bring amazing human interest stories which otherwise in many countries are not reported by the domestic media. The BBC world service is not just about news and current affairs, its programmes spans across  global art, cultures, science, technology, music  and literature that stimulate intellectual discussions  and deeply  enriches our view of the world.

The other dayI  took part in a discussion with someone, who argued that the BBC still suffers from the colonial hangover and tries to impose its views on the world.  Perceptions about news might differ from person to person, and now living in Britain; I have a better understanding about the organisation and the controversies surrounding it. However, I still believe that the BBC World Service gives good insight to some of the pressing issues of the world and it remains one of the most trusted organisations for news for many around the globe.

At a time, when countries like China are investing millions in international English channel, the BBC   should ensure the World Service remains an articulate and powerful voice  for free and independent reporting and be the collective voice of shared universal principles  in the world. Credibility is the key to the BBC’S success and it must ensure that it continues to enhance that.


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