The BBC on Monday confirmed that it will go ahead to close down the Asian Network radio station, which is targeted at people with origins in the Indian sub-continent, by the end of 2011.
The BBC Trust, which sets the course for the functioning of the world service, confirmed the proposal by the BBC director general Mark Thompson to shut down the radio station. It has published its initial conclusions on how the corporation can make the transition to a fully digital future.
Monday’s announcement follows the publication by the BBC Executive in March of an initial set of proposals for the future of the BBC, which the Trust has since consulted on.
BBC Trust Chairman Sir Michael Lyons said it needed to meet its twin obligations to the public — to provide distinctive high quality public service content and to use their money wisely.
“The Trust would consider a formal proposal for the closure of the Asian Network, although this must include a proposition for meeting the needs of the station’s audience in different ways,” Mr. Lyons said.
The Trust, however, rejected the proposal to close down 6 Music radio station following a public campaign to save it.
However, a separate campaign by leading British Asians and Indians such as Shilpa Shetty did not help prevent the close of the Asian Network.
The Asian Network has a significant audience among people with origins in the Indian sub-continent, but its audience base is challenged by brighter and closer cultural content of private radio stations such as Sunrise and Sabras.
Senior Britain-based Indian journalists who worked for the BBC believe that given the multi-choice media environment, diversity of languages within the Asian community and stiff competition from commercial radio, the closure of the Asian Network was inevitable.
Online campaigns and petitions to save it were launched but senior Indian-origin journalists said they saw it coming because of many pressing factors, including a lack of clarity in its programming and target audience.
Hisam Mukadam, a veteran journalist associated with the Network for over 20 years, told PTI: “It (the closure) was coming. The station had become a Bhangra-based Punjabi music station where the linguistic and information needs of the universal Asian community were severely overlooked”.
Mr. Mukadam, however, added that even though the younger audience had other sources to access Asian music, there was a need for dedicated Asian broadcasting, particularly because the Asian community reposed much trust in the BBC for news.
Vijay Rana, former BBC radio editor, said: “They were never sure who they were broadcasting to. South Asian radio audience in this country is largely 45+ and a large part of them are women.”
He said the Asian Network could not win them over and decided to target the young generation, “whose interest in South Asian music, culture and current affairs was only marginal — 18-year-olds never listen to daytime radio.”
“Being a public service organisation, it had to please so many ethnic pressure groups by broadcasting in Gujarati, Punjabi, Mirpuri etc. And they could please none of them. Their audience kept on declining,” Mr. Rana underlined.
He said they could have served the community better if they had adopted Hindustani — a mix of Hindi and Urdu — as their main broadcast medium.
The Network was launched in October 1988, but has its roots in the BBC television programme, ‘Nai Zindagi Naya Jeevan’, in 1968 from its studios in Birmingham.
Daya Thussu, co-director of the India Media Centre at the University of Westminster, told PTI: “The closure of the BBC Asian Network shows how important Indian media have become among British Indians, who now have access to a myriad of Indian television channels and websites as well as such U.K.-based stations as Sunrise Radio.”
“It also demonstrates how under market pressure the BBC is abandoning its multicultural remit. The danger is that such moves will make the BBC what Greg Dyke, its former Director General, once accurately described as, ‘hideously white’,” he added.
Indian-origin Avtar Lit, founder of the popular Sunrise Radio, said they had a wonderful opportunity to connect with the Asian community and it has been rejected.
“The BBC was never really serious about providing a service for the Asian community. It’s a token service, they have ignored them for decades,” he said.
“They think because it’s the BBC, people will have an automatic allegiance to it. They have come up against commercial radio and got a bloody nose out of it,” he said.