One of the best aspects of the BBC World Service, of which the Bangla service is part, is the "freedom and independence" they enjoy to report on Bangladesh, India and other developing countries. Most of these language services are aimed at the "Developing South" where the media is constrained and underperforming.
But the BBC remains free to dance at its will and provide information untouched by censors or fear of bans and repression. No wonder so many have been very hurt by the news of the separate radio service of the BBC Bangla in Bangladesh being shut down. They will miss the reporting style and content of the BBC.
Consumers of BBC World Service radio for example set the bar for news reporting by their broadcasts. Naturally few can reach them. However, a critical aspect of this reality is the economic freedom BBC radio enjoyed. But it's largely funded by the UK government and operated to serve its interest in the rest of the world.
Of funding and state politics
"The BBC World Service is an international broadcaster owned and operated by the BBC, with funding from the British Government through the Foreign Secretary's office. It is the world's largest external broadcaster in terms of reception area, language selection and audience reach. It broadcasts radio news, speech and discussions in more than 40 languages to many parts of the world on analogue and digital shortwave platforms, internet streaming, podcasting, satellite, DAB, FM and MW relays. In 2015, the World Service reached an average of 210 million people a week (via TV, radio and online)."
"Apart from a share of the licence fee, some advertising and the profits of BBC Studios, This service was also guaranteed £289 million (ending in 2020) from the UK government. The World Service was funded for decades by grant-in-aid through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office until 1 April 2014." (Wikipedia)
The World Service claims and most would agree that it's the premier media presence in the world. But this should not be confused with its role in forwarding a "balanced British view" of international development as the site puts it. Its purpose in the both short and long run is to pursue the stated and unstated view of the UK state.
Peter Horrocks who was a director of the BBC earlier has said that BBC was an example of fighting an "information war" of soft power against Russian and Chinese international state media" This role has become more obvious more recently and the BBC has been banned in both Russia and China. After the 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Russia came down hard on it and thus ended a long connection built around fighting each other's information war.
In March 2022 BBC World Service received over 4 million pounds of extra funding to support Ukrainian and Russian language services in the region. Official news release said that , "The government is giving the BBC World Service emergency funding to help it continue bringing independent, impartial and accurate news to people in Ukraine and Russia in the face of increased propaganda from the Russian state and to help it increase trusted and independent content to counter disinformation about the war in Ukraine."
The report went on to say, "In scenes reminiscent of 80 years ago, the BBC will ensure that audiences in the region can continue to access independent news reporting in the face of systemic propaganda from a dictator waging war on European soil. It's vital we lift the veil on and expose the barbaric actions of Putin's forces. Then-Minister of State for Europe and North America (and now foreign secretary), James Cleverly said: "Britain is calling out Putin's lies and exposing his propaganda and fake news."
Media freedom to serve foreign policy aims?
It does mean that the BBC's role was meant to project its own views to the world. It's a sophisticated method of selling the product unlike socialist media crudeness where everything is pushed down the throat. But the objective is the same. So what we were for example getting in Bangladesh was fine as internal reporting was not a UK concern but rest were quality British views and sophisticated propaganda.
That probably means that media freedom is itself a constructed idea which can happen when several conveniences suit the funder. While BBC staff may have all agree with the government, the fact remains that all were part of the information war against one or many.
In the complex world of media freedom, government policy and funded broadcasting, the South's dependence on the BBC shows how it remains immature and underdeveloped. BBC is British and was always serving its own cause.
The Southern media must stop looking outside for what is happening inside. The conventional media freedom that was propagated by the BBC model may not be the only answer. It must develop its own priorities and grammar, perhaps even define what freedom means beyond what is distributed by Western sources.
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