Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘British Council’

LibDems and the Creative Industries

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 16th September, 2018

Nik PowellThe LibDem Creative Network held an excellent event on the fringes of the Brighton autumn party conference last night, in an upstairs room at the Bar Broadway in Kemptown. There were two great speeches by producer Nik Powell, former Director of the National Film and Television School, and drummer Bob Henrit, who used to play with The Kinks. They both underlined what a disaster Brexit will be for the sector if it means a return to the bad old days of intrusive customs searches, carnets for instruments and other red tape. The creative industries contribute well over £70billion each year to the UK economy and the sector is growing faster than most others. But all that could be brought to a shuddering stop, before going into reverse, if there isn’t the free flow of actors, musicians and other artists between Britain and the Continent. No wonder there was such a sea of blue-and-yellow EU flags and 12-Star berets at the Last night of the Proms. To undermine the sector really would kill the goose that has been laying the golden eggs as well as enriching our cultural lives.

Bob KinksI reprised the theme in a speech I gave in the Britain and the World debate in the main auditorium at conference this afternoon, calling for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to be actively involved in Britain’s “soft power” through cultural diplomacy, and to report regularly to Parliament about the international aspects of our creative industries. It’s not just institutions such as the British Council and the BBC World Service that are important, but the hundreds of thousands of individual creators who make an enormous contribution. I recalled the wonderful spirit that there had been at the time of the London Olympics in 2012, while lamenting how that has evaporated in the two years since the EU Referendum. But as the clamour for a People’s Vote on whatever “deal” the Government comes up with grows, we must be hopeful that a cliff edge can be avoided. Remaining in the Single Market and Customs Union would certainly facilitate matters, but if we are going to do that, then we might as well stay in the EU, full stop.

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A Closed or Open Brexit?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 11th October, 2016

ciaran-devane-and-anSince the British EU Referendum in June there has been a lot of talk about “Hard Brexit” versus “Soft Brexit”, with Prime Minister Theresa May giving the impression that she favours the former, i.e. sacrificing access to the European single market in order to “get back control” of immigration. Remainers like myself not surprisingly think that is utter madness. But last night, at the British Council headquarters off Trafalgar Square, the Council’s CEO, Sir Ciaran Devane, asked an invited audience to think instead of the alternative between a “Closed Brexit” (with a more isolated Britain) or an “Open Brexit”, in which Britain would remain outward-looking and open not just for business but also for cultural interchange. Sir Ciaran was giving the Edmund Burke Lecture, sponsored by the venerable publication Annual Register and ProQuest, and made no secret of his own preference for Britain’s remaining in the EU, but if Brexit is going ahead then it is important that it proceeds in the most positive way possible. The British Council of course does have global reach, being active in around 150 countries and does far more than just promote British culture and values. Through its Young Arab Voices programme, for example, it is giving young people in the Middle East and North Africa skills that will help them express themselves. Other projects have a clearly developmental element of empowerment. Sir Ciaran lamented the fact that once Britain is out of the EU Ministers and officials will no longer be part of the regular meetings with our current 27 partners discussing all sorts of issues that impact on the creative industries. So it will be important to find other ways of exchanging information and views to prevent Britain becoming further isolated.

[photo: Sir Ciaran Devane and event chairman Alastair Niven]

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Soft Power

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 1st July, 2015

Soft Power 1Gunboat diplomacy was often the way that Britain asserted its presence on the global stage in the 19th Century, and even as late as 2003 in Iraq, thanks to Tony Blair. But the predominant school of thought in London these days is that “soft power” can be a more effective way of winning friends and influencing people. The term was the subject of a presentation this lunchtime for the Global Strategy Forum at the National Liberal Club by Sir Ciarán Devane, Chief Executive of the British Council (that organisation does not have a Director these days, which is an interesting reflection of a change of mentality). In fact, Ciarán Devane does not like the term “soft power”, preferring the much less assertive “cultural relations”, and in his speech he emphasized the aspect of mutuality: the work of the British Council (and by extension, the UK) should be as much about listening as it is about communicating.

soft power 2 Some people have criticised the fact that so much of the emphasis of the Council these days is on English-language teaching, but as Sir Ciarán said, teaching English is a way of enabling people to engage with the world, as English is currently the global language. As someone who has been covering the Middle East and North Africa for the past 25 years, since I was part of the BBC World Service’s 24-hour rolling news coverage of the first Gulf War, I was especially interested to learn of the Young Arab Voices programme that the Council is running, helping to engage younger people (who might be largely ignored by their elders in a society that is still age-hierarchical); they are the likely agents of change, as well as the leaders of tomorrow. In the discussion following Sir Ciarán’s speech, I pointed out that I was surprised to learn about this initiative for the first time today, and wondered whether it is deliberately “below the radar” or something that the Council should be “out and proud” about. The latter, he replied. So let’s shout about it! It sounds a fab idea!

[photo: Sir Ciarán Devane and Acting GSF Chair Lord Howell]

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Options for Influence

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 29th September, 2008

‘Soft power’ and ‘public diplomacy’ have become buzzwords in both international affairs and domestic politics as countries and political parties hone their image and message. So the appearance of a new short book on the theme, Options for Influence (Counterpoint, £11.95), is timely. As the joint authors, Ali Fisher and Aurélie Brockerhoff note, ‘the aim of public diplomacy is not just changing people’s perceptions, but rather influencing the way people act.’

We see that at its clumsiest sometimes in the hands of the Bush administration in Washington. The European Union and the United Kingdom as an individual country like to think that they are more subtle and more adept at soft power. But anyone in the business — including politicians — could usefully study this book, which proclaims itself to be an introduction to the field of exerting influence through overt international communications. The content specially focuses on the British Council and the BBC World Service, but there are interesting examples discussed of other bodies such as NATO and the Chinese Confucian Institutes.

R.S. Zaharna, Associate Professor of Public Communication at Georgetown University in Washington, has correctly noted that networking has replaced information dominance as the new model of pesuasion in the global communication era. This little study takes on board such changes and wise political parties are doing so as well.


Links: and

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Breakfast with Auntie

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 15th September, 2008

The BBC breakfast is always one of the best-attended fringe events at LibDem conferences. Sponsored by the BBC World Service (radio), BBC World News (TV) and BBC Monitoring, it’s a good opportunity for the external services of the corporation to unveil new developments to a sympathetic audience. As Nigel Chapman, Director of the World Service, admitted, there have been highs and lows over recent years. Closing down remaining European language services (including latterly the Romanian service) was a tough decision. But on the up-side, BBC Arabic television was successfully launched esrlier this year — or more accurately, relaunched, as it had a short life once before. Soon it will provide 24-hour broadcasting, competing strongly with al-Jazeera and other Arabic-language channels. The best news, though, is that a new BBC Persian TV service will begin this autumn, opening up an exciting new channel for dialogue with people in Iran and other Farsi-speaking regions.

This evening, in collaboration with the British Council, the World Service will host another fringe event: a debate on the transatlantic relationship in the post-Bush era, chaired by my old Bush House colleague Nick Childs and featuring the LibDem Shadow Foreign Secretary, Ed Davey, the Chair of Democrats Abroad, Bill Barnard, and others.


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