The dispute over the BBC’s restructuring of its Russian service continues. After Thursday’s letter in the Times, signed by Index on Censorship and others, the World Service director Nigel Chapman went to great length to contact various signatories and address the points of the letter. Chapman also sent a letter to the Times, saying: ‘The BBC will continue its strong commitment to the BBC Russian service and to its role as a trusted, influential and editorially independent news provider.’
A World Service spokesman stressed to Index on Censorship that the cuts would mainly be made to news bulletins designed for the BBC’s FM partners in Russia (of which there are now none) and that the reduction in hours of radio programming would mostly be down to the cancellation of 11 1/2 hours of ‘repeats’. He also reiterated the fact that more resources would be poured into online operations, where the majority of Russian BBC users are now found, and that current affairs programmes such as Vecher na BBC were being expanded.
A further email to Index on Censorship said that several of the signatories of the Times letter had apologised on learning this.
Today the Times printed a letter from Russia expert Robert Chandler, questioning the World Service’s claims. Chandler pointed out that while cutting repeats sounds fine, it potentially means programmes are lost to listeners at the further reaches of Russia’s 11 time zones. As Chandler puts it, ‘[Chapman] seems to regard the whole of Russia east of the Urals as an irrelevant appendage to Moscow and St Petersburg.’ He then goes on to say there needs to be a ‘public inquiry into all aspects of the World Service’, citing problems in Nepal and Pakistan.
One suspects this issue’s not going to go away any time soon.
UPDATE: And it hasn’t. Here, in pdf form, (and interesting reading) are:
Nigel Chapman’s response to the original Times letter.
The unedited version of Robert Chandler’s letter to the Times, supplied to Index on Censorship.
A response from Donald Rayfield, Emeritus Professor of Russian and Georgian, Queen Mary University of London, supplied to Index on Censorship.
UPDATE 2: In a letter to the Times today, the World Service’s Nigel Chapman addresses Robert Chandler’s points, which he describes as ‘inaccuracies and assertions’, says the BBC’s ‘independence and editorial integrity are non-negotiable’.