Wednesday, 4 January 2012

From the BBC World Service's Facebook page

"The BBC World Service has been based at Bush House in central London since 1941. For over 70 years it has broadcast from this landmark building; through a World War, Cold War, decolonisation throughout Africa, the Iranian Revolution, Perestroika, Tiananmen Square, two Gulf Wars and into the new Millennium. But soon it's leaving Bush House, to join the rest of BBC News in one new building, adjoining a refurbished Broadcasting House."

This is very sad for me. I became interested in shortwave radio and therefore international communications through listening to the BBC World Service in the early morning on FM (after BBC Radio 4 closed down for the night). The strains of Lilliburlero at the top of the hour were a clear identifier, and I always associated it with accurate, interesting global news. Lilliburlero has gone and now the last remaining identifier - Bush House - is likewise set to disappear.

In the comments on the Facebook page many subscribers said that the content of programmes is more important than the building from which they are broadcast; and I agree. Provided the BBC World Service can maintain its high standards in news, and in producing and broadcasting innovative, exciting and informative programmes in a multitude of languages we have nothing to worry about. But as I enter middle age, I still can't help feeling that the BBC's departure from Bush House means the loss of something which, like Lilliburlero, gave the station a very unique identity among audiences.

Above all, the World Service's location in Bush House reminded audiences, the BBC itself and the British government that it was part of the BBC and yet separate from it. It was designed for a very particular purpose and had a very distinct mission - to help nation speak peace unto nation.

Most worrying, however, is that the BBC World Service will no longer be funded by the British Foreign Office but will have to compete with the rest of the BBC's output for finance. This means some very tough decisions will have to be made: From Our Own Correspondent or Strictly Come Dancing? Can the BBC justify the World Service to licence fee payers, the majority of whom have never heard its programmes, and may not even know it exists? At a time when governments around the world are expanding their international broadcasting - China in particular is engaged in an aggressive investment programme to expand its reach across the globe - the British are cutting back, closing language services (closing Mandarin is not just a mistake, it is a crime) and forcing the World Service to become a competitor for funding. Can the UK claim to be serious about public diplomacy and soft power while denying its most treasured instrument of international outreach the funds and independence to do its job?

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