Tuesday, May 17, 2011

FAC conclusion on BBC Hindi: Responses from Govt and the BBC

Naleen Kumar at British Parliament


Govt's response:
The Government has a strong bilateral relationship with India, and we are committed to make it even stronger, wider and deeper. Since the Prime Minister’s visit and the Summit with Indian Prime Minister Singh in July 2010, we have set in train an ambitious agenda of practical co-operation.
Under the terms of the agreement set out above between the BBC and the FCO, the World Service has editorial and managerial independence within an overall strategic framework, agreed with the Foreign Secretary. On this basis, while we retain a strong interest, decisions about changes to methods of broadcast within specific countries remain the responsibility of the World Service.
The BBC World Service told us that they made a decision to cease short wave broadcast in view of a falling short wave audience, and their broader decision to move away from short wave transmission. We were not formally consulted on this decision and we believe that the case they advanced for closure was not compelling. We welcome the World Service’s decision to identify savings from within its budgets to give the service the chance to explore a new operating model. We very much hope that the reprieve will continue, either through a new model of funding, or from the BBC identifying funds from their own resources.

BBC's Response:
The BBC remains committed to providing news to India but to secure its long term relevance needs to respond to rapid and significant changes in the media market. TV is now the key medium for news, and is already in six in ten households. FM deregulation has led to a steep decline in shortwave listening, despite the ban on news from any provider except the state broadcaster (All India Radio). Mobile phones are now ubiquitous in India, with 0.5 billion subscribers, and internet availability continues to grow. These changes have created commercial opportunities which have drawn a plethora of new competitors meeting the Indian preference for localised content.
This is the background which has seen the BBC Hindi audience in India decline by almost half in only three years, from 17.8m weekly listeners in 2008 to 9.7m in 2010—still significant in numerical terms, but representing only 1.3% reach among Hindi-speaking adults. As shortwave listening continues to decline in India, it is to be expected that the BBC shortwave audience will decline further.
As the Committee has noted, the BBC has announced the retention of one hour of Hindi shortwave for one year, in response to audience concern, and while it explores whether sustainable commercial funding can be found for the longer term. The BBC has noted the Committee’s recommendation regarding longer term support for an unreduced service. The original decision to cease Hindi short wave broadcasting was a difficult choice and sooner than we would have liked, however one that we believed was necessary given the resources available at the time. The BBC is examining whether any further retention is possible within the funding constraints.

(Naleen Kumar)

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