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BBC to End Radio Broadcasts in Russian

Русская служба Би-би-си существенно сократит количество радиопрограмм

The Russian Service of the BBC, which provides news and information to Russian-speaking audiences not only in Russia but also in the Caucasus, Central Asia, Ukraine and the Baltic States, will end its on-air radio broadcasts as part of a budget cutting move. The BBC announcement was made shortly after the violent suppression of pro-democracy protests in Belarus and the terrorist attack in Moscow.

The British broadcaster’s decision follows a similar move by the U.S. international radio station, the Voice of America (VOA), which was forced by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) — a government agency managing U.S. international broadcasts — to end on-air VOA Russian radio programs in July 2008, just 12 days before the Russian military incursion into Georgia. As a result of this move, VOA lost most of its pre-2008 audience in Russia. Due to criticism from media freedom activists, the Broadcasting Board of Governors in the U.S. had subsequently agreed to allow VOA to resume a 30 minute Monday through Friday online radio broadcast in Russia. The British announced that the BBC will distribute some Russian-language radio programs online.

As part of the planned budget cuts, the BBC has also announced the complete closure of five language services – Albanian, Macedonian, Portuguese for Africa and Serbian languages; as well as the English for the Caribbean regional service.

Neither VOA nor BBC have been able to maintain a significant radio audience in Russia due to the actions of the FSB, the Russian security service, which forced radio stations using VOA and BBC programs to stop local rebroadcasts. The FSB also used the same tactics against the BBG-funded U.S. broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).

While destroying their ability to develop a significant audience in Russia, the FSB stopped short, however, of driving Western broadcasters out of the country altogether. In an apparent effort to avoid retaliation, which would have been in any case highly unlikely, and to maintain their ability to distribute Russia Today satellite television news (RT) and the Voice of Russia (VOR) programs on local channels in the West, the Russian authorities allowed VOA, BBC, and RFE/RL to continue using low-power AM transmitters, which provided only limited and poor reception in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Despite the weak signal, the Russian authorities have been demanding hundreds of thousands of dollars from the BBC and the BBG each year for the use of these transmitters.

Other than the Internet, the only other option to distribute news programs in Russia outside of the control and interference from the FSB is through the use of outside-based high-power shortwave and AM radio transmitters or through the use of satellite delivery of audio and video. Audiences to shortwave radio broadcasts have been declining sharply in recent years. Still, shortwave broadcasts are the only reliable medium for distributing radio programs, especially during political emergencies. The Russian security services sabotaged and blocked websites in Georgia during the 2008 military incursion and the Belarus KGB blocked social media sites and sabotaged human rights NGO websites during the pro-democracy protests last December.

Satellite TV is also a more secure way of delivering news to Russian-speaking audiences, but neither the BBC nor the BBG, which runs the Voice of America, have been willing to invest in developing regular satellite TV news programming in Russian. The BBG had terminated regularly-scheduled VOA satellite TV newscast in Russian several years ago while allowing the VOA Russian Service to produce short video news reports for placement on YouTube. The BBC Russian Service also produces video news reports for online placement.

Ted Lipien, former acting associate director of the Voice of America who now runs media freedom NGO Free Media Online (FreeMediaOnline.org), said that the BBC decision to end its Russian-language radio programs will further weaken independent journalism in Russia, Belarus, the Caucasus, and in Central Asia at the time when the local secret police agencies are more determined than ever to control the flow of news and information in an effort to maintain the power of dictatorial, authoritarian, and corrupt regimes. Unfortunately, neither the BBC nor the Broadcasting Board of Governors in the U.S. had reacted forcefully when the Russian authorities systematically limited their ability to distribute programs in Russia in cooperation with independent Russian broadcasters, most of whom have since been driven off the air or forced to follow the Kremlin line, Lipien said.

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From the BBC press release:

BBC World Service will cease all radio programming – focusing instead, as appropriate, on online, mobile and television content and distribution – in the following languages: Azeri, Mandarin Chinese (note that Cantonese radio programming continues), Russian (save for some programmes which will be distributed online only), Spanish for Cuba, Turkish, Vietnamese, and Ukrainian.

From the BBC Russian Service website:

Русская служба Би-би-си перенесет вещание в интернет

Русская служба Би-би-си существенно сократит количество радиопрограмм и будет вещать исключительно через интернет.

BBC Press Release

BBC World Service cuts language services and radio broadcasts to meet tough Spending Review settlement

Date: 26.01.2011

Category: BBC; World Service

BBC World Service gave details of its response to a cut to its Grant-in-Aid funding from the UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office today.

BBC World Service is to carry out a fundamental restructure in order to meet the 16 per cent savings target required by the Government’s Spending Review of 20 October last year.

To ensure the 16 per cent target is achieved and other unavoidable cost increases are met BBC World Service is announcing cash savings of 20 per cent over the next three years. This amounts to an annual saving of £46m by April 2014, when Grant-in-Aid funding comes to an end as BBC World Service transfers to television licence fee funding, agreed as part of the domestic BBC’s licence fee settlement announced on the same day.

In the first year, starting in April 2011, the international broadcaster will be making savings of £19m on this year’s operating expenditure of £236.7m (2010/11).

The changes include:

five full language service closures;
the end of radio programmes in seven languages, focusing those services on online and new media content and distribution; and
a phased reduction from most short wave and medium wave distribution of remaining radio services.
BBC Global News Director Peter Horrocks said: “This is a painful day for BBC World Service and the 180 million people around the world who rely on the BBC’s global news services every week. We are making cuts in services that we would rather not be making. But the scale of the cut in BBC World Service’s Grant-in-Aid funding is such that we couldn’t cope with this by efficiencies alone.

“What won’t change is the BBC’s aim to continue to be the world’s best known and most trusted provider of high quality impartial and editorially independent international news. We will continue to bring the BBC’s expertise, perspectives and content to the largest worldwide audience, which will reflect well on Britain and its people.”

BBC World Service also plans spending reductions and efficiencies across the board, targeted in particular in support areas where there will be average cuts of 33 per cent.

BBC World Service also expects to generate additional savings from the new ways of working after the move to the BBC’s London headquarters at Broadcasting House in 2012, and also by the transfer of BBC World Service to television licence fee funding in April 2014.

Under these proposals 480 posts are expected to close over the next year.

By the time the BBC World Service moves in to the licence fee in 2014/15 we anticipate the number of proposed closures to reach 650. Some of these closures may be offset by new posts being created during this period.

It is expected that audiences will fall by more than 30 million from the current weekly audience of 180 million as a result of the changes this year.

The changes have been approved by the BBC Trust, the BBC Executive and, in relation to closure of services, The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, William Hague, as he is required to do under the terms of the BBC’s agreement with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

The changes in detail are:

Full language service closures
There will be the complete closure of five language services – Albanian, Macedonian, Portuguese for Africa and Serbian languages; as well as the English for the Caribbean regional service.

End of radio programming
BBC World Service will cease all radio programming – focusing instead, as appropriate, on online, mobile and television content and distribution – in the following languages: Azeri, Mandarin Chinese (note that Cantonese radio programming continues), Russian (save for some programmes which will be distributed online only), Spanish for Cuba, Turkish, Vietnamese, and Ukrainian.

Reductions in short wave and medium wave radio distribution
There will be a phased reduction in medium wave and short wave throughout the period.

English language short wave and medium wave broadcasts to Russia and the Former Soviet Union are planned to end in March 2011. The 648 medium wave service covering Western Europe and south-east England will end in March 2011. Listeners in the UK can continue to listen on DAB, digital television and online. Those in Europe can continue to listen online or direct to home free-to-air satellite via Hotbird and UK Astra. By March 2014, short wave broadcasts of the English service could be reduced to two hours per day in Africa and Asia.

BBC World Service will cease all short wave distribution of its radio content in March 2011 in: Hindi, Indonesian, Kyrgyz, Nepali, Swahili and the Great Lakes service (for Rwanda and Burundi).

These radio services will continue to be available for audiences by other means of distribution such as FM radio (direct broadcasts and via partners); online; mobiles and other new media devices.

Short wave broadcasts in remaining languages other than English are expected to end by March 2014 with the exception of a small number of “lifeline” services such as Burmese and Somali.

English language programmes
There will be a new schedule for World Service English language programming – a focus on four daily news titles (BBC Newshour, BBC World Today, BBC World Briefing, and BBC World Have Your Say); and a new morning programme for Africa. There will be a new daily edition of From Our Own Correspondent; and an expansion of the interactive World Have Your Say programme.

There will be a reduction from seven to five daily pre-recorded “non-news” programmes on the English service. This includes the loss of one of the four weekly documentary strands. Some programmes will be shortened. Titles such as Politics UK, Europe Today, World Of Music, Something Understood, Letter From…, and Crossing Continents will all close. There will also be the loss of some correspondent posts.

Audience reduction
Audiences will fall by more than 30 million as a result of the changes announced on 26 January 2011. Investments in new services are planned in order to offset further net audience losses resulting from additional savings in the 2012-14 period.

Professional Services
There will be a substantial reduction in an already tight overhead budget. Teams in Finance, HR, Business Development, Strategy, Marketing and other administrative operations will face cuts averaging 33 per cent.

Job losses
Under these proposals 480 posts would be declared redundant; of these 26 posts are currently unfilled vacancies. BBC World Service is proposing to open 21 new posts. Therefore the net impact of these proposed changes could result in up to 433 posts being closed this financial year against a total staff number of 2400.

By the time the BBC World Service moves in to the licence fee in 2014/15 we anticipate the number of proposed closures to reach up to 650. Some of these closures may be offset by new posts being created during this period.

Notes to Editors
BBC World Service is currently an international multimedia broadcaster delivering 32 language and regional services, including: Albanian, Arabic, Azeri, Bengali, Burmese, Cantonese, English, English for Africa, English for the Caribbean, French for Africa, Hausa, Hindi, Indonesian, Kinyarwanda/Kirundi, Kyrgyz, Macedonian, Mandarin, Nepali, Pashto, Persian, Portuguese for Africa, Portuguese for Brazil, Russian, Serbian, Sinhala, Somali, Spanish for Latin America, Swahili, Tamil, Turkish, Ukrainian, Urdu, Uzbek, and Vietnamese.

It uses multiple platforms to reach its weekly audience of 180 million globally, including shortwave, AM, FM, digital satellite and cable channels. Its news sites, which received 7.5 million weekly visitors in November 2010, include audio and video content and offer opportunities to join the global debate. It has around 2,000 partner radio stations which take BBC content, and numerous partnerships supplying content to mobile phones and other wireless handheld devices. For more information, visit bbcworldservice.com. For a weekly alert about BBC World Service programmes, sign up for the BBC World Agenda e-guide at bbcworldservice.com/eguide.

BBC World Service is part of BBC Global News. BBC Global News brings together BBC World Service – funded by Grant-in-Aid by the UK Government; the commercially funded BBC World News television channel and the BBC’s international facing online news services in English; BBC Monitoring – which is funded by stakeholders led by the Cabinet Office, and a range of public and private clients; and BBC World Service Trust – the BBC’s international development charity which uses donor funding. No licence fee funds are currently used in any of these operations.

BBC World Service Press Office

This report was first published by FreeMediaOnline.org Logo. FreeMediaOnline.org Truckee, CA, USA, January 26, 2011.

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