With the closure of the BBC’s Hindi radio, an era ends | Opinion – analysis
When the curtain finally fell on the Hindi radio of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) after 80 years, millions of listeners living in conflict zones, and outside society in rural India, lost their only reliable and easily source Accessible accurate information.
The crackling but very confident voice that informed, educated and entertained many generations of Indians was silent after their last broadcast on January 31.
It has been an incredible journey for a service that began in 1940 with the limited purpose of passing radio messages to batteries to Indian soldiers fighting in the trenches in distant lands to serve the British Empire during World War II. Over the years, it has become a reliable source of information and knowledge.
After all these years, the decision to close the shortwave Hindi radio was announced by BBC chiefs a few weeks ago, citing a growing number of radio listeners and the need to divert more resources to digital platforms.
After the announcement, we were flooded with emails, letters, text messages and phone calls from anxious listeners. Each of them had a story to share, an anecdote to tell and good memories associated with the BBC to appreciate.
The visually impaired listeners sent emotional messages, saying they were going to lose their best mate who brought light to their world of darkness. Several people from disadvantaged backgrounds, who now hold important positions in government, universities, the judiciary and politics, said they owed their success to the BBC radio.
Despite the great goodwill of the Hindi radio service, the BBC had previously tried to stop its broadcasts in 2011, only to withdraw the decision after a massive rejection of listeners, and supported by several eminent authors and journalists such as Sir Mark Tully , Vikram Seth and Arundhati Roy.
Ironically, just a few months before the ax finally fell on Hindi radio, the BBC World Service actually extended the broadcast time of its flagship program Hindi “Dinbhar” to overcome the strict communication restrictions imposed by the government by Narendra Modi in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).
In August, Parliament effectively annulled Article 370, cut off the Internet and mobile services (now partially relieved), and arrested many opposition leaders (several of whom have now been released). Suddenly, free and independent journalism at J&K seemed quite impossible.
In this context, Jamie Angus, the director of the BBC World Service, decided to circumvent the restrictions to serve the hungry public of information at J&K. And the shortwave radio was the only means to reach them. Angus acknowledged in a statement that the public resorts to the BBC during times of crisis when tensions are highest.
Radio listening has undoubtedly declined over the years, but as American media scholar Jeff Jarvis said, the success of journalism should not always be measured in the “old media metrics” of the number of eyeballs that saw our message. Instead, it should be based on whether journalism helped people achieve their goals, improve their lives and communities.
The BBC helped at least four generations of Indians achieve their goals, improve their lives and find their place in the world.
While I am proud to have been associated with the BBC’s Hindi radio, it is not easy for me to have the dubious distinction of being the last radio editor of such an illustrious service.
Rajesh Joshi is a journalist and editor of print and television media based in New Delhi. He led the BBC Hindi radio team in its final phase.
The opinions expressed are personal.