Â FreeMediaOnline.org and Free Media Online BlogÂ October 8, 2008, San FranciscoÂ – Unlike the Voice of America (VOA), which had eliminated radio broadcasts to Russia shortly before the Russian invasion of Georgia, the BBC hasÂ decided to continueÂ producing Russian-language radio programs while alsoÂ expanding its Internet and video production.
FreeMediaOnline.org has obtained the details of the new British broadcastingÂ strategy for Russia, which wasÂ announced by the BBC World Service Regional Head, Americas & Europe, Nikki Clarke.
The aim of the strategy is to position the Russian service to respond to the changes in media consumption in Russia. Due to the Kremlin’s crackdown on the independent media, theÂ BBC has had considerable difficulties in trying to secure FM distribution in the past three years andÂ the BBCÂ radio service is dependent onÂ shortwave and 3Â medium wave transmittersÂ in Moscow, St Petersburg and Ekaterinburg. At the same time, consumption ofÂ the BBCÂ Russian online site has been growing and in August, at the height of the Georgian crisis, it was at nearly 3m unique users. For September it has continued at 2.2m.
The strategy outlinedÂ by the BBCÂ aims to allow the RussianÂ service to focus more effectively on its online offerÂ while also strengthening its video andÂ radio production.
The details of the BBC new Russia strategy:
A rolling news page â€“ which other Russian sites use
More original video production on a 24/7 basis â€“ more staff trained in video
More resources for interactivity on a 24/7 basis
More resources for the site in the morning peak
It will also concentrate the radio coverage on news and current affairs in the key parts of the schedule â€“ morning and evening peak times with:
Expanded key current affairs sequences. including Utro na BBC; Vecher na BBC; Vam Slovo; BBSeva; Ranniy Chas
A new 90 minute edition of Vecher na BBC will be developed on Saturdays and Sundays
There will also be an expansion in newsgathering:
Original video reporting will be increased
Original reporting from Russia and the FSU will increase
Analysis to be increased in current affairs programmes and online
Reporting of Britain, social affairs, and British cultural affairs to be strengthened in radio programmes and online
The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), whichÂ manages U.S. international broadcasting, is also pursuing an Internet-focused strategy in Russia. Unlike the BBC, however, the U.S.Â broadcasting boardÂ had forced the Voice of America to terminate all on air Russian-language radio programs to the point of not allowing the VOA Russian service to produce radio broadcasts even for placement on the Internet or on a still available medium wave transmitter in Moscow. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), which is also managed by the BBG, continues to broadcast radio programs to Russia on shortwave and medium wave. Members of Congress, media freedom organizations, and VOA journalists have criticized the BBG for ending Voice of America radio broadcasts to Russia.
Both VOA and RFE/RL are funded by the U.S. Congress. VOA programs originate in Washington, D.C. and are more similar to BBC radio programs, while RFE/RL broadcasts radioÂ from Prague and Moscow and focuses more on internal developments in Russia. According to FreeMediaOnline.org, a media freedom nonprofit based in San Francisco,Â RFE/RL reportersÂ who are Russian citizens and live in Russia are more vulnerable than VOA and BBCÂ broadcasters toÂ the attempts at intimidation by the Russian security services and need more protection from the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors. AfterÂ the BBGÂ stoppedÂ VOA Russian-language radio broadcasts, the U.S. has no radio programs to Russia specializing in explaining U.S. foreign policy and presentingÂ in-depth radio or InterentÂ coverage ofÂ American society and culture.
An internalÂ BBC memo says thatÂ the changes in the BritishÂ program strategy in Russia will mean the elimination of 7 positions in the Moscow bureau which are related to the news bulletins, though overall, with recent recruitment and the creation of new jobs, the headcount in Moscow will not change. In London, there will be a proposed net closure 10 positions, which the BBC managementÂ will be discussing with the staff and the unions.
The BBC management believes that the new radio-Internet-video strategy will deliver a more diverse and improved content for the Russian audiences which they cannot get from other sources and that it will continue a tradition of providing unique coverage of Russian and international affairs.
FreeMediaOnline.org president Ted Lipien described the BBC plan as far more prudent and more realistic than the plan adopted in the U.S. by the Broadcasting Board of Governors for the Voice of America.Â Lipien said that unlike the BBC, theÂ U.S.Â international broadcasting authorityÂ has made a strategic error that rewards Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, his close associates and other enemies of media freedom. Lipien said, however, that the proposed elimination ofÂ several positions at the BBC Russian service in London should be a cause for concern due to the vulnerability of the reporting positions in Moscow for all international broadcasters.