Monday, March 08, 2010

uproar over plans to close bbc asian network

above: Asian Network DJs Bobby Friction (L) and Nihal
Plans to close BBC Asian Network radio cause dismay
by Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette, 8 March 2010

BBC Director General Mark Thompson’s [pictured] confirmation last week that the BBC proposes to axe its Asian Network digital radio station as part of the strategy review he has submitted to the BBC Trust Chairman Sir Michael Lyons, has triggered dismay and anger among Britain’s South Asian community of around 2.5 million people.

The Asian Network was launched as a national digital radio station in 2002. Under the proposal it would be replaced by local Asian services in five areas – London, Manchester, Birmingham, Leicester and West Yorkshire – and for only a few hours a day.

More than 150 Asians prominent in British arts, music, film, theater, politics and business have signed a letter of protest addressed to the BBC Trust Chairman Sir Michael Lyons, which was published in the Guardian last Saturday.

The signatories included Lord Navnit Dholakia, Lord Kamlesh Patel, Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty, actress Meera Syal [pictured], film director Gurinder Chadha, Olympic medal winning boxer Amir Khan, Labor MP Khalid Mahmood, musician Jay Sean, England cricketer Vikram Solanki, comedienne Shazia Mirza, and the president of the National Association of British Pakistanis and chairman of the Muslim Council for Religious and Racial Harmony Dr. Imam Abdul Jalil Sajid. The letter expressed “profound shock” at the proposal to close the Asian Network as a national station. “The BBC we have grown up with has always prided itself on celebrating diversity. In that respect, the Asian Network is a national platform for musicians, Asian culture in general, news, debate and documentaries.”

The station provides a key platform for the national Asian community, “and offers an outlet to British Asian talent, which is demonstrably underrepresented in the more mainstream BBC.” This would all be “tragically lost” if the proposals are agreed.

The letter added that reducing broadcasts to just a few hours a day would be a retrograde step, leaving only the commercial Asian stations. “These stations will not and cannot deliver as comprehensive a service as the BBC Asian Network. This is a vital part of what the BBC offers in the name of public service broadcasting. As loyal licence-fee players we trust we will not be let down.”

The letter to the Guardian is one of several campaigns to try to rescue the Asian Network. There are several support groups on Facebook, the largest of which, ‘Save the BBC Asian Network!!!’ had by Saturday attracted 18,063 fans. Messages of support are also circulating on Twitter.
The station broadcasts primarily in English, but also broadcasts in Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, Bengali, Gujarati and Mirpuri. It has lost around 20 per cent of its listeners over the past three years, and had an average of 360,000 listeners a week at the end of 2009. At its peak it had some half a million listeners. The strategy review aims to free up some £600 million Sterling to be channeled into higher quality BBC productions such as journalism, drama and comedy.

In addition to axing Asian Network, the proposals in the strategy review include closing another digital station, Radio 6 Music and reducing the budget of BBC online by a quarter. A large-scale campaign, with some 100,000 supporters, has sprung up in support of Radio 6 Music, which specializes in “alternative” music genres of today and of the past 40 years. Sir Michael Lyons has admitted that if there is massive concern over the closure of Radio 6 Music, he might ask BBC management to rethink its strategy.

The most popular Asian radio station in Britain is Sunrise, which in addition to its national station also owns a number of local radio stations. Sunrise’s founder and chairman Dr. Avtar Lit has been unsparing in his criticism of Asian Network, describing it last week as “mediocre.” He said: “They had a wonderful opportunity to connect with the Asian community and it has been rejected.”

The founder and editor of Asians in Media online magazine Sunny Hundal [pictured] has criticized Asian Network in the past, but now insists that it is vital that it survives. To axe the station would reduce competition, especially with the Sunrise’s buyout of Club Asia radio late last year. “Closing Asian Network would leave no real alternative to Sunrise.”

Hundal argues that Asian Network has been “a stepping stone for scores of presenters, producers, journalists and actors across the media industry”. And to close the station would be to abandon Asian payers of the BBC license fee, which now stands at 142.50 pounds a year.” To get rid of Asian Network would remove a vital platform for British Asian culture.

Critics of the proposal also ask why the station should be done away with when the BBC is guilty in the eyes of many in massive overspending on bureaucracy and on bloated salaries for senior staff. At one time, its star TV talk show host Jonathan Ross was earning a reputed 6 million pounds a year.


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