In the Commons yesterday evening, Edward Leigh MP secured an Adjournment debate on the future of the BBC World Service's Hindi Service.
- The Service's audience: This is an important Adjournment debate about the future of the BBC’s Hindi radio service. At the moment, it is broadcast for three hours a day, divided between the morning and the evening, and reaches no fewer than 10 million listeners, mostly in the northern Hindi-speaking regions of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand. Hindi is the second-largest language audience of the BBC World Service worldwide—of course, English is the first—and it is precisely these three poorer states in India that the Department for International Development has committed to support until 2015 to the tune of £280 million.
- Little money will be saved by ending the Service: The BBC is cutting its shortwave Hindi service, which costs £1 million a year, but once cut, it will save just 2.5p per listener. This, I contend, is the wrong saving to make, and I very much hope that the BBC will think again. The BBC Hindi service began in May 1940, on the very same day that Churchill became Prime Minister, and it employed I. K. Gujral, who later became the 13th Prime Minister of India. The Hindi service was also the first news outlet to break the news of Indira Gandhi’s assassination.
- Reprieve is inadequate: There has been a so-called partial reprieve—I would call it a climbdown—after the massive outcry over the total abolition of a radio service that serves 10 million people, and which most radio stations in the world would give their eye tooth to have. However, all that will do is save one hour of Hindi broadcasting for just one year, and that is not enough.
- If we abandon listeners they may turn to Iran or China: We often talk about soft power, and about proclaiming our values. Service such as these represent soft power. They are increasingly recognised as a hugely effective means of delivering diplomacy and our values, with few of the risks associated with more heavy-handed foreign policy interventions… Many BBC Hindi service listeners might be forced to switch to China Radio International or, for Muslim listeners, Radio Voice of Iran, if the service is shut. I would point out to my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson) that the only domestic competition that the BBC Hindi service faces is All India Radio, which has a poor reputation for news and current affairs programmes and is often seen as a Government mouthpiece. In contrast, the BBC Hindi service has built up a strong reputation based on its unbiased coverage of news and current affairs.
In his reply David Lidington MP, Foreign Office Minister, noted the declining Hindi Service reach and the possibility of use of DfID funds to ensure some continuation of service beyond the planned reprieve:
- "According to the World Service, the shortwave audience in India has been falling for some time. In 2007 there were 19.1 million listeners, but by 2010 the number had fallen to about 11 million. That is still a large audience, but it represents a reach of just over 1% of the population, although—as my hon. Friend made clear—the areas covered by the shortwave broadcasts include some of the very poorest parts of India. There is only a small audience for shortwave in any of the urban areas, and the service was broadcasting for only three hours a day."
- "Some World Service activity may count as official overseas development assistance. We are discussing with DFID and the OECD how BBC World Service expenditure may be reported as official development assistance. I understand that the World Service is discussing funding for specific projects with DFID, which already supports the BBC World Service Trust, the charitable arm of the World Service."
More in Hansard.