BBC in other languages: BBC Mundo (Spanish) on YouTube, BBC Persian a big success

Monday, March 09, 2009

Two articles to note about BBC's service in other languages, notably Spanish and Persian.

One here is from the Independent and has an interview with the head of the BBC World Service, who apparently (I know nothing about what goes on inside the BBC) was the person who made the decision to cut 10 languages from its broadcast:

When Chapman took out his sword and severed 10 language services, including those in Polish, Greek, Hungarian and Czech, he did away with 200 jobs. "I can still see the faces of the people right in front of me now, their sad faces, proud but sad about having to leave the BBC," he says of the moment he called a mass meeting in Bush House in October 2005 to announce that he wanted to take the budget from those services and spend it on plans for an Arabic TV channel. "I got quite a tough time from them, as you'd expect. People felt angry and upset and that would only be human wouldn't it?"
But on the other hand BBC Persian has been wildly successful so far:
These are not the subjects that Chapman most wishes to discuss. He would prefer to dwell on his record of driving up the World Service audience from 146m listeners to 183m, while transforming it into a genuine multi-platform offering with an enhanced website and controversial television networks in Arabic and Persian.

In the Middle East, the BBC was being out-punched by Arab language television news. "How can we compete for attention in the Middle East without a satellite television news service? If we didn't have one we'd just be batting on with radio and new media, how could you compete with Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiyah in that way? You can't."

So last year Chapman launched the World Service's Arabic TV service, following it with this year's Persian service, in spite of claims by the Iranian authorities that the broadcasts were illegal, with the consequence that the BBC does not have a team of Farsi-speaking news-gatherers in Iran. But the Persian service (unlike the Arabic one) is not just BBC news and current affairs but a mix that includes documentaries and programmes on the arts. Iranians and viewers from the Persian-speaking diaspora are even treated to Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear with a Farsi voiceover. "It's going down a storm I'm told. The boy racers in northern Tehran think it's a great show," says Chapman, laughing.

"There's also a terrific interactive daily programme [Nowbat-e Shoma or Your Turn] where viewers can debate issues. So you get Farsi speakers in Europe and America debating with Farsi speakers in Iran and Afghanistan about Iran's place in the world, the nuclear issue, the Gaza story. That's a unique opportunity for them which they wouldn't have had otherwise."

I've noted before that the huge success of the BBC Persian service is not only due to the quality of the broadcasts but also due to the fact that Persian didn't really have all that much before BBC came along: there were broadcasts based in Iran, which aren't permitted to broadcast certain subjects, and then there was VOA (Voice of America) which apparently is pretty low quality. I also listen to Deutsche Welle's Persian radio service which is quite good, but it's not tv. So here BBC Persian has been able to reach an audience that hasn't really had anything comparable until now.

The other piece of news is here (plus other places), about BBC Mundo electing to put some of its broadcasts up on YouTube, and you can see them here. You'll notice two things straight away: 1) almost no hits, and 2) embedding has been disabled. There's also no real overall organization of the videos, so you have a story about the Vatican, two videos over something about a new car, then something on Gaza, then a bit on chimpanzees, Pakistan, a musical about Obama; it's a bit of a mess. The only way to find something is to do a keyword search, or look through the videos yourself until you find something useful.

It's still useful for people learning Spanish because YouTube videos can easily be played over and over again, but for those with Spanish as a mother tongue it's probably not that interesting.


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