In a move that is as controversial as it is necessary, the BBC have announced that they will propose doing a daily news broadcast which will be beamed into North Korea and a satellite TV service in Russia. Now why would a British based news outlet wish to send news into parts of the world which are at best restrictive toward the media? Well that is precisely the reason to do it. The BBC wishes to become part of a drive to counter state propaganda worldwide, but especially in these countries, reports have said.
Britain’s public broadcaster has stated that they are worried about democracy and the free press worldwide, and will make the proposals this week. The plan also includes expanding BBC Arabic’s coverage in North Africa and the Middle East, the Guardian reported over the weekend.
A BBC spokesman told Mashable in an email that, Director General Tony Hall will be setting out his plans and it will include plans for the ever oppressive Russia and North Korea.
The BBC is not being entirely altruistic however as they are said to be worried about the rise of state-backed rivals such as Qatar’s Al Jazeera, China’s CCTV and Russia’s RT. This may simply be an issue of competition but when a state runs a news outlet information is inevitably held back from the public.
A BBC insider went on record to say, “This is about Britain’s place in the world. Other news outlets are growing globally, and many do not share our traditions and values.” Now the BBC’s traditions and values may be up for debate but none can argue that the BBC coverage of most foreign events is balanced fairly. The state run stations in Russia and North Korea are certainly not that, they will toe the government line and will not report on issues which portray their home nations unfavourably.
This new plan will encounter some problems though. Broadcasting in North Korea represents a difficult problem considering that the country routinely blocks the signals from outside sources. The balanced BBC broadcasts may also provoke a diplomatic response from Pyongyang, the Financial Times said. A governmental response due to the truth being broadcast will always be an issue in a totalitarian government but what that response might be has yet to be seen.
The BBC World Service used to be funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but the BBC had to take on its £245 million annual cost from last year as part of a 2010 agreement with the government. However the BBC will ask the government for help funding this expansion. This seems to be fairly hypocritical asking our own government to finance news which could get another government in trouble especially since it will be the tax payer having to foot the bill. The broadcasting giants seem to have thought of that however saying it will match funds by commercialising some of its news operations.
The BBC World Service is held in high esteem by many in the UK. “The World Service is one of our country’s most important sources of soft power, with an unparalleled ability to reach out across the globe,” former Foreign Secretary William Hague said in March 2012. Correspondents provide news and analysis in 32 languages which is an immensely useful resource globally.
The expansion of a news organisation which is respected by many is usually cause for celebration and hopefully it will be this time as well, but we do not yet know the costs nor if they are even able to get the news into these countries yet. I remain cautiously optimistic that the expansion can mean good things for countries who have not had a balanced news media in years, or maybe even ever. This may well also mean expanded debate in countries where there are as of yet none and that can only be a good thing.