Thursday, January 27, 2011

A World Dis-Service

As a nat, I often find myself in an uncomfortable position when it comes to broadcasting. If life were straightforward, I'd be against the BBC and all its works, except for its Scottish outpost at Pacific Quay, which I'd argue ought to be bolstered to become a broadcaster in the mould of RTE or Norsk Rikskringkasting.

As it is, if you can set to one side the bumptious metrocentricism of David Dimbleby and the general default lack of knowledge about Scottish issues on the occasions where they intrude upon the 'network', generally speaking, the BBC is still one of the best broadcasters there is. Sadly, I find that my biggest gripes are with BBC Scotland, which dumbs down relentlessly, and which in its news and current affairs output, all too often tolerates the advancing of individual agendas which sit ill at ease with a requirement for political impartiality.

A treatise on the state of Scottish broadcasting is something for another day, though. What's prompted me to put fingers to keyboard this morning is the news that the BBC World Service is to face a cutback in its services, with the loss of 650 jobs, 5 separate language services and potentially, 30 million of its 180 million listeners worldwide.

I've blogged before about the importance of soft power when it comes to winning hearts and minds around the world. To my mind, an institution like the World Service, which educates, informs and broadcasts pretty well impartially to people around the world in their own language, is more useful than the Foreign Office when it comes to winning influence, and worth any number of Trident missiles when it comes to earning meaningful international prestige.

If life were straightforward, I'd probably feel like crowing a little over what is yet another loss for British standing in the world yet somehow, I can't help but feel a little sad about this news. An independent Scotland, for better or worse - largely better, I would say - will inherit a great deal of shared experience and outlook from our time in the UK. The public service ethos in broadcasting and the undoubted ability of certain British institutions to win cultural influence around the world, which the present Cameron Government seems to be so cavalier towards, is one thing which I hope might find a more congenial home in an independent Scotland.

Sadly, the evidence is that presently, our own broadcasters are barely up to the task of catering for Scottish needs, let alone competing on an international level. Increasing the broadcasting spend in Scotland and launching a dedicated Scottish digital channel to counter the undoubted draw of London's residual broadcasting capital may help matters, but it's unlikely to be the whole solution. That's going to require a shift in leadership and mindset which, unfortunately, money might not be able to buy.


Dark Lochnagar said...

I don't think that the BBC should be expected to pay for it. The Foreign Office should take over the budget because as you point out, it does a lot more than the Diplomatic Service does. However, do we still need it? When are we going to realise, we are not a world power? Does some rubber tree planter's desire to hear the BBC every night, mean that we have to spend fortunes on a Foreign Service, when our National broadcaster can't even get it right in Scotland? As an example, why do they have to cut FMQs every week when they run out of time. They don't do that for PMQs, when there is an hour and a half show fitted round it and they don't have some Unionit twat like Cochrane from the Telegraph, a paper know one in Scotland reads, 'summing up' for the thick viewer, when 99% of everyone that watches that programme will be politically switched on.

Richard Thomson said...


I see advantages in it not being paid for by the Government, but given the fact that the FO has always traditionally made a contribution towards the costs without the World Service being seen to be compromised, I don't see why that shouldn't continue.

The World Service offers a vehicle for the BBC to sell its goods and merchandise, and also to sell its programmes, which helps to fund the Corporation. Many of the local radio stations in the USA which are part of the PBR network carry a feed from the World Service, particularly for news, when they aren't broadcasting their own programmes.

Your point about the difference in the way PMQs and FMQs is broadcast is well made, and I have, as I said, issues of my own with the editorial standards of some BBC Scotland output. However, for me, maintaining the scope of the World Service isn't about feeding the power delusions of those inside the Westminster bubble.

One of the best international services comes from Radio Netherlands at Hilversum. Many other countries have their services carried on the World Radio Network ( Given the ability to broadcast via the internet and satellite radio rather than relying on short wave infrastructure, I'd like to think that the state broadcaster in an independent Scotland would try to do something similar.

The French Government launched the France 24 TV service to present a Francophone view of the world in a number of languages. I don't see the utility in trying to emulate the scope of the BBC WS in an independent Scotland, but we could certainly do better in presenting our take on the world than the turgid Voice of America manages.