For Immediate Release, July 3rd, 2001
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Worries of declining British interest in the Pacific
The BBC halted its direct shortwave radio broadcasts to the Pacific over the weekend, making it hard for listeners to hear them any more and raising concerns that the British Government no longer sees the area as being relevant.
After more than 70 years of 'London Calling', a new policy of making shortwave radio listeners rely on internet audio, satellite radio and some local relay stations has already raised a storm of protest.
Austin Mitchell, who spent some time in New Zealand, and is now the Labour MP for Grimsby in Yorkshire, has lodged a protest in the House of Commons. MPs from many parties have already signed up, worried that the BBC moves signal an intent to run down British interests in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific.
BBC staff have even petitioned their own management to keep the shortwave service on air, citing 'the torrent of emails and letters pouring into Bush House', the London headquarters of the BBC World Service.
The BBC's Mark Byford dismisses the protests, and the BBC Head of Region, Asia and Pacific, claims that New Zealand listeners have a powerful presence of the BBC via a relay station in Auckland, and a community access station on the Kapiti Coast.
Listeners in other parts of the country can no longer hear the BBC signals broadcast to New Zealand, instead having to rely on signals from BBC broadcasts directed to India and Asia. They can't rely on signals to Canada and the USA anymore either, as the BBC shut those broadcasts down over the weekend too.
The Foreign & Commonwealth Office, which funds the BBC World Service, has expressed concern over the cuts, which undermine their efforts to maintain a strong British presence in the South Pacific. They've already said that BBC staff will be questioned about the decision, and previous reports of poor BBC reception by British diplomatic staff resulted in the BBC being told to improve its service.
The British Council, who partner with the BBC to create a positive climate for British interests worldwide, are believed to be worried that the BBC cuts will reduce the impact of their activities around the Pacific, by alienating people who once had a positive view towards Britain.
The British Government has tried to strengthen its efforts to build closer ties with New Zealand in recent years, with offices shared by consular officials, trade staff, British Council and the British Tourist Authority.
With one of their partners, the BBC, simply dropping New Zealand and the Pacific from their broadcasts, their job has suddenly become much more difficult.
The New Zealand Radio DX League, a club for shortwave radio listeners has put details of other BBC frequencies which might be heard in New Zealand on their website to help local listeners. The site is www.radiodx.com .