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BBC Director Criticizes Romania for Interference

  • Stuart Parrott

London, June 27 (RFE/RL) -- BBC World Service Managing Director Sam Younger says efforts by Romanian politicians to interfere with the rebroadcast of BBC radio programs in Romania are a sobering reminder "of the limits of freedom in post-communist Europe."

Speaking to Britain's Royal Institute of International Affairs last night, younger said senior politicians of the ruling Romanian coalition last month attacked what they called biased BBC coverage of local elections.

Younger said they called on Romania's National Audio-Visual Council to consider withdrawing licenses from commercial radio stations relaying BBC news programs in Romanian. Younger said there was an outcry in the Romanian press, with one newspaper saying the government would never be able to defeat the BBC.

He said two senior members of the BBC's Romanian section appeared before the council and "robustly rebutted the accusations of bias, and for the time being the threat to the BBC's partner stations has receded."

"But it was a sobering reminder both of the vulnerability of rebroadcasting and of the limits of freedom in post-communist Europe."

Younger said the BBC had to be very careful about dropping direct broadcasting in favor of total reliance on re-broadcasting. This is because re-broadcasting is always vulnerable to government pressures.

He said the Bulgarian government at the time of the December 1994 parliamentary elections announced that it would not allow broadcasts in Bulgarian on election issues from foreign stations to be relayed locally.

He said: "the threat of such a ban was lifted after widespread protest. But one reason why such a ban might not have been an attractive one to the Bulgarian government was that listeners would still be able to tune in on short wave -- so the censorship could not be total."

However, Younger said the big development of recent years for world service has been the increasing readiness of radio stations in many countries to place BBC programs in their own schedules on FM or medium-wave -- the practice called rebroadcasting. He said a growing proportion of the BBC audience, currently around 15 percent, is now reached in this way. He said re-broadcasting has developed extensively in the former Soviet Union and parts of Europe.

He said the BBC recently started a limited service in Uzbek that is now relayed, along with some Russian and English programming, on the Uzbek National Radio Network. He said Azeri programs are now available on FM and medium wave throughout Azerbaijan. The BBC has also implemented a re-broadcasting pact with Macedonian national radio.

Re-broadcasting, he said, is the way of the future, developing into deeper partnerships between the BBC and broadcasters around the world.

"The development of re-broadcasting is of immense strategic importance to the world service as we look to our vision for what we can provide in the next century. For what the world service can offer increasingly is the BBC as a partner.

"It won't by and large be enough for us simply to beam in our programming from the olympian detachment of London and expect men and women around the world to be grateful."

"Rather, we will have to see ourselves as an integral part of the local media scene wherever we are active. This emphatically does not mean trying to compete anywhere as a local broadcaster."

"Rather it means leveraging what I see as the two most valuable historic assets of the BBC World Service: the excellence of its journalistic and production standards and its truly global perspective and coverage."

"It is global, truly international perspective which is missing in much of the domestic media around the world, and many listeners want the kind of programming that delivers this perspective, that emphasises membership of the wider world community."

He added: "to borrow a concept used by geologists: we are seeing the formation of new tectonic plates, replacing the old ones of the East/West conflict. And with these, new faultlines emerge, along which nationalist and ethnic conflicts can easily spread."

He said: "the potential for tension exists even in areas we normally think of as utterly stable."