Thu, 27 Jan 2011 09:10:13 GMT

BBC Hindi news to go off air from April 1

New Delhi: At the height of his popularity in the mid-1990s, former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav had made a trip to London. Addressing his followers at the Patna airport on his return, Yadav had proudly exclaimed: "Do you know where I went? I went to the BBC office in London!"

That Lalu chose to describe BBC as the biggest highlight of his London visit was hardly surprising. That's a name that everyone -including the poorest and most backward that Lalu sought to address -in north India could recognise, probably even better than London itself.

For years, BBC's Hindi news bulletins on short-wave radio has been the only source of information -certainly the most credible, as most listeners would insist -for millions of people in the Hindi heartland of India. Alas! that would be no longer the case from April 1.

The BBC on Wednesday announced that it would discontinue its Hindi bulletins from April 1 as part of a global restructuring of its services.

"This is death of an institution... an iconic institution. I have been in mourning ever since I learnt about the announcement," said Achala Sharma, who headed the Hindi Service for nearly 11 years, and was one of the most popular voices of the Service.

At its peak in the `70s and `80s, the Hindi service, that began in 1932, commanded a listnership of more than 35 million people. Some of the biggest news events from India were relayed to the world first by BBC, including the assassination of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi as the All India Radio and Doordarshan dithered and held back the information for several hours.

BBC's one-time India head, the venerable Mark Tully -who incidentally was the one to break the news of death of Indira Gandhi -had over the years become a household name and went on to make this country his adopted home.

Even as media like TV became more accessible and radio, especially on short-wave, went out of fashion, BBC continued to enjoy a loyal following, mainly in rural and semiurban areas. The listnership for last year was reported to be close to 10 million.

But as FM started getting more popular and moved into smaller cities and towns, it was getting increasingly clear to the BBC management that short-wave radio is not the future. In today's announcement, it said it would stop its services in Macedonian, Albanian and Serbian languages and also those in English for Caribbean countries and in Portuguese for Africa.

In India, BBC will continue its Hindi online service with more intensive reporting and added visual content, as well as its nominal presence on the private FM scene. The Urdu service on short-wave would also continue but the Tamil and Bangla services would move from short-wave to FM.

The Hindi service currently employed 52 people, mostly in Delhi and some in London. As of now, 23 of these jobs are likely to be lost, according to sources. Worldwide, the BBC estimates that 650 employees would lose their jobs because of this restructuring.

BBC Director General Mark Thompson said it was "a painful day" for the organisation but stressed the decision would "inevitably have a significant impact on the audiences who use and rely upon the relevant services". Writing in the Telegraph, Thomson said the decision to discontinue some of the services was "consistent with our long-range international goals and strategy" and that the "supporters of the international role of the BBC should not despair".

Source: Indian Express

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