Magazine article The Spectator

Short Changed

Magazine article The Spectator

Short Changed

Article excerpt


When abroad I always have a shortwave radio with me to listen to the BBC World Service. This week has been no exception as I've been in Italy grappling with the complexities of going on-line here, something I hope to accomplish soon. After 11 September, carrying a short-wave radio seems even more pressing. Were I travelling to North America and Australasia there would be no point, as last July the BBC ceased broadcasting on short wave to these areas of the world.

As I've said before, I received a huge number of emails and letters from listeners outraged by this absurd decision by Mark Byford, director of the World Service. He claimed it saved half a million pounds, a derisory amount in the World Service annual budget. His reasoning was that as more than 170 million Americans are now on-line they can hear the World Service via the Internet. Local stations also re-broadcast bits of the World Service. It was no surprise to read, then, that Byford was acting director-general the weekend Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother died and that the BBC was wholly unprepared.

Anyway, I'm still receiving emails and letters from readers ten months after the cut-off ( Dr Aubrey Wilson from London wrote to say that, before a recent visit to the United States:

I contacted the BBC to give me the times and wavelengths of local radio transmissions of World Service in New York. After considerable correspondence and totally useless visits to their website they could not or would not tell me. During a seven-day stay in New York I did not once locate any re-transmissions that the BBC claims to be taking place.

He noted that writing to his MP or the Foreign Office which funds the World Service had no effect.

John Dennehy emailed to point out that there was a disenfranchised group I hadn't mentioned in earlier columns on this subject. From the Americas to Australia and New Zealand many cruising yachts carry sophisticated short-wave transceivers.

On my last voyage in the Pacific I met boats of many nationalities, and without exception every single one of them had listened to the World Service in preference to, say, Voice of America or the (excellent) Dutch short-wave services in English.

He adds:

The suggestion that listeners can use their computers to listen to the broadcasts only demonstrates a detachment which is as patronising as it is ignorant of the conditions in which many people listen to the World Service, whether afloat or on a remote island in Polynesia or Micronesia. …

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