Save the BBC Burmese Service!
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 9th September, 2010
There is a perverse topicality in the suggestion from the BBC World Service that it might be necessary to terminate the BBC’s Burmese language service, as it is currently celebrating its 70th year of existence. It is only right and proper that the World Service (which, unlike the domestic BBC is funded by the Foreign Office, not by the licence payer) should regularly review its language output. Sad though it was to see all the European language services closed over the past decade, it made little sense to keep on broadcasting to countries that had developed their own free media since the end of Communism. On the other hand, output in Arabic has rightly been increased and the Persian-language service has expanded, including into television. But it makes absolutely no political sense whatsoever to consider axing or even reducing the Burmese servce now. Burma — or Myanmar, as its military regime prefers to call it — is one of the most repressive countris on earth, ranked by Reporters without Borders as having the fifth least free media in the world. Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the last set of democratic elections in Burma in 1990, but was prevented by the military junta from taking office, has spent most of the intervening time under house arrest. She has personally testified how much the BBC Burmese Service has meant to her. I must declare an interest, as when I was writing daily commentaries on international affairs for the BBC World Service (on a freelance basis) from 1983-2003, the Burmese service frequently used them in translation. Even if that were not the case, however, I would be singing its praises and I am frankly shocked than anyone should even consider suggesting its being cut, for budgetary or any other reasons.
[Photo: Burma’s first Prime Minister, U Nu, appearing on BBC Burmese service radio)