Action Plan to Raise Public Awareness of the International Implications of cuts to the BBCWS

Why Alter Policy?

  • The BBC World Service (BBCWS) is implementing spending cuts due to income reduction from both the BBC and FCO. This incorporates a restructuring of output towards FM and digital internet services, away from shortwave broadcasting.
  • Professor Gary Rawnsley believes the BBCWS reputation for objectivity and accuracy has created trust and built foreign audiences – reflecting well on Britain. By supplying news and information, BBCWS provides a great service to Britain and the world, for a minimal cost – something UNESCO argues fosters economic growth and democracy.
  • International broadcasting builds a sense of community, creates links and breaks down barriers. Shortwave history is littered with examples of restrictive states attempting to jam outside broadcasts, and prevent different opinions reaching their people – three examples being the Soviet Union, China, and North Korea.
  • Using FM and digital internet services compromises BBCWS objectivity and freedom. Both require local regime support, FM for antenna use, the internet because it can easily be blocked, e.g. ‘The Great Firewall of China’.
  • Shortwave can be broadcast thousands of miles from the target audience – regime restrictions do not apply, the BBCWS can retain its objectivity and continue broadcasting into restrictive regimes. Jamming is difficult and costly – the Soviet Union was believed to spend as much each night attempting to jam BBC services as the BBC spent annually broadcasting to Russia!
  • Shifting away from shortwave also introduces a cost burden to the audience – FM radios and internet subscriptions are more expensive, thus reducing audiences and restricting access. For the BBCWS, whilst internet services may be cheaper to maintain than shortwave, the upkeep of a worldwide network of antenna for FM is more costly.

Policy Context

  • Weak economic climate worldwide.
  • Reductions in BBC funding, the removal of an FCO grant in aid for the BBCWS.
  • The BBC argues that shortwave audiences are declining, and audience information preferences are from television, mobiles and the internet. However, shortwave is the most open and accessible broadcast medium currently available worldwide.
  • Unrest in parts of the world, and British involvement overseas, suggests now is not right to reduce BBCWS output. Shortwave is a crowded market, ex-listeners may tune-in to stations providing unjustified criticism of British actions.
  • Media reporting of the Arab Spring uprisings had a focus around social media – the influence of shortwave broadcasting was neglected.
  • Is the role of Britain on the world stage changing? Should the BBCWS change in line with this?

Objective and Target Audience

To raise public awareness of:

  • the international implications of BBCWS cuts;
  • shortwave international broadcasting successes;
  • the vacuum left by BBCWS withdrawal.

If successful, results to be presented to BBC and FCO officials as part of package to reverse current changes.

Plan to Raise Awareness

1. Arrange a conference of radio and media historians, titled ‘Radio, Communities and the World – Past & Present’, held at King’s College London in summer 2013. Themes include: shortwave in history, BBCWS, broadcasting today, importance of international radio, and, raising awareness. Conference invitees – academics, FCO officials, BBCWS executives, journalists, and radio and television producers, such as Dan Snow or Andrew Marr.

  • Key historians to invite – Asa Briggs, Jean Seaton, Gary Rawnsley, and Graham Mytton.
  • If possible contact dissidents/exiles from restrictive regimes, past and present.
  • Target – Conference debate on topic, website and social media links to conference – Facebook page, Twitter hashtag - #worldradio. Work with attendees on adding papers to website and creating a conference proceedings booklet.

2. Create e-petition on No.10 website - ‘Reverse cuts to BBCWS international shortwave broadcasting’.

  • Target – 100,000 signatures make it eligible for House of Commons debate.

3. Newspaper articles created from conference proceeding. Target large-circulation newspapers, broadsheets, and free-sheets, such as The Sun, The Daily Mail, The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Metro, and The Evening Standard. Aim for debate on radio shows, such as BBC Radio 2 Jeremy Vine Show, or BBC Radio 4 Today programme. Promote hashtag, e-petition and websites given opportunity – encourage people to engage in debate.

  • Target – Stories about history and impact of international shortwave and the BBCWS accessible to millions via newspaper and radio.

4. Pitch a television show - ‘Impact of international radio on 20th and 21st Century’. Concentrate on impact of radio broadcasting with past examples such as Suez and the Cuban Missile Crisis, and modern examples, such as the Arab Spring. In pitch, use as evidence public interest in the newspaper articles, the radio shows, hits on the website, Twitter, etc. Aim to promote Twitter hashtag, e-petition, and website.

  • Target – A single prime-time television programme.

5. IPSOS Mori public opinion poll to measure impact on public interest in topic. Using their full range of techniques, investigate public interest in the BBCWS continuing shortwave broadcasts, whether they are happy to pay, and whether they agree current policy towards BBCWS should reverse.

  • Target – Gain a large-scale assessment of public interest in revising BBCWS plans.

Monitoring and Evaluation

Determinants of success –

1. Attendance at conference –

  • Success: 50+. Qualified success: 20+. Failure: Less than 20.

2. Producing conference proceedings, reaching target number of hits on conference website –

  • Success: 100,000+. Qualified success: 50,000+. Failure: Less than 50,000.

3. Number of newspaper articles and radio shows on topic -

  • Success: reach multiple newspapers and radio shows, each with one-million plus audiences.
  • Qualified success: if 1-3 articles in high-circulation newspapers, and 1-2 prominent radio shows.
  • Failure: if no newspaper or radio show runs the topic.

4. Viewers of television show -

  • Success: two-million+ viewers.
  • Qualified success: one-million+
  • Fail – no television show/on at non-prime time slot/audience less than one million.

5. Positivity of surveyed towards spending on shortwave and reversing current policy.

6. Signatures on No.10 e-petition -

  • Success: 100,000+ triggering debate.
  • Qualified success: 75,000+
  • Failure: Less than 75,000


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