Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for September 9th, 2010

Looking Forward to the Liverpool Conference

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 9th September, 2010

For the first time for many years I won’t be at the LibDem Autumn Conference next week, which might seem perverse, given that this is the first time in my lifetime that my party has been in government. However, I was offered a lecturing tour of the Arab world (including a part of Sudan that I have never been to), starting next Wednesday, which was just too good to turn down. So I shall be following and enjoying Conference vicariously. And, in fact, I have been previewing it quite a lot these past few days, first at an interesting Pizza and Politics put on by Chingford & Woodford Green (a constituency that straddles the boundaries of Watham Forest and Redbridge), at which Dr Mark Pack spoke, then this evening at one of Islington’s famous Pizza and Politics, at which the speaker/facilitator was local member Andrew Wiseman, recently elevated to Chair of the Federal Conference Committee following his predecessor Duncan Brack’s being appointed a government special advisor (SPAD). Interestingly, at both events, the issue which caused the most debate was how the party can or should address the problem of under-representation of ethnic minosirites (BME) in the parlimaentary, Euro-parliamentary and London Assembly parties, and to a lesser degree among the party’s membership. Actually, Islington has a rather good record at embracing and engaging people of different cultures, so there is much ‘best practice’ that can be shared, London-wide and maybe beyond. The other contentious issue related to Free Schools, though actually the motion before conference is rather critical of Michael Gove’s policy, so it will be interesting to see what transpires in Liverpool. I’m sad to be missing the real thing, but doubtless even in Arabia Deserta, I’ll be able to keep in touch.

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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)

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