FreeMediaOnline.org Logo. FreeMediaOnline.org and Free Media Online Blog October 8, 2008, San Francisco — Unlike the Voice of America (VOA), which had eliminated radio broadcasts to Russia shortly before the Russian invasion of Georgia, the BBC has decided to continue producing Russian-language radio programs while also expanding its Internet and video production.

FreeMediaOnline.org has obtained the details of the new British broadcasting strategy for Russia, which was 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, the BBC has had considerable difficulties in trying to secure FM distribution in the past three years and the BBC radio service is dependent on shortwave and 3 medium wave transmitters in Moscow, St Petersburg and Ekaterinburg. At the same time, consumption of the BBC 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 outlined by the BBC aims to allow the Russian service to focus more effectively on its online offer  while also strengthening its video and radio production.

The details of the BBC new Russia strategy:

A rolling news page – which other Russian sites use
More original video production on a 24/7 basis – 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 – 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), which manages U.S. international broadcasting, is also pursuing an Internet-focused strategy in Russia. Unlike the BBC, however, the U.S. broadcasting board 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 radio from Prague and Moscow and focuses more on internal developments in Russia. According to FreeMediaOnline.org, a media freedom nonprofit based in San Francisco, RFE/RL reporters who are Russian citizens and live in Russia are more vulnerable than VOA and BBC broadcasters to the attempts at intimidation by the Russian security services and need more protection from the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors. After the BBG stopped VOA Russian-language radio broadcasts, the U.S. has no radio programs to Russia specializing in explaining U.S. foreign policy and presenting in-depth radio or Interent coverage of American society and culture.

An internal BBC memo says that the changes in the British 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 management 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.  Lipien said that unlike the BBC, the U.S. international broadcasting authority 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 of  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.

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