Sound of Silence

Here that? Well, not for much longer.

At the end of this month, the BBC World Service will stop broadcasts to much of Europe. For years the World Service has formed part of a daily routine for millions of listeners across the continent, providing an open and trustworthy source of news.

Yet on the 27th March, the BBC will switch off their mighty Medium Wave transmitters – which broadcast to much of France, Benelux, Germany and Denmark – and thousands of radios across Europe will fall silent.

Whilst our English language service is being axed, other entire language services are facing the chop too. Egypt alone will lose broadcasts that serve nearly half a million listeners. All in the name of government costs savings. There could not be a worse time to cut broadcasts to North Africa – nor a more short sighted decision.

It’s true that most of Western Europe now has access to a free and independent media (though Berlusconi and Murdoch give one some pause for thought) thus reducing one of the arguments for the World Service. But for many – me included – the BBC World Service  still plays an important role in delivering impartial fact-based journalism without fear or favour.

More importantly though, the World Service provides its listeners with an international outlook that is so often missing in domestic media. And that is why Europe still needs the World Service.

Much of Europe’s domestic news services have become more parochial. The main television and radio bulletins now cover little international news, and any international news they do cover has to have a domestic angle.

Take the latest events in Libya for example: domestic media in the UK struggled to report the story until they stumbled on a UK angle – that British citizens were finding it hard to get home. This became the story at the expense of the wider upheaval  in the country. It replaced analysis of the situation on almost all domestic outlets. A domestic angle to an international story was what was important to UK editors.

The World Service somehow remained a bastion of quality and internationalism in a media world which is forever looking inwards. It was unashamedly outward looking. It challenged and educated its listeners. Complexity wasn’t a vice or a reason not to report a story.

The World Service made me think, and on more than one occasion, reach for a map. If it did that for other listeners in other countries it was money well spent; for who doesn’t think it’s in the UK’s direct interest for other citizens in other countries to be well informed of the international world?

In a difficult and turbulent world, that international outlook is vital to help citizens understand and engage with the world around them. And understanding leads to trust.  Yet listen to domestic news and you’d be hard pressed to realise there were other countries out there.  The small amount of money spent on the World Service pays for itself many times over – anything that makes it more difficult to receive is a false economy.

Yes, I know the press release blithely reassures listeners in Europe that they can listen online, but I find it enough of a challenge to make coffee in the morning, let alone fiddle with my computer. Analogue radio is about the only thing I can operate whilst I’m still in bed. So that’s why I’m so sad to be losing my ear on the world.

Come the end of March I’ll be waking up and going to bed in  an awkward silence.