Presenters on the BBC Czech Service had the unenviable task of announcing their own demise this morning. The BBC World Service is about to introduce sweeping changes to its programming - ten of its language services, mostly in Central and Eastern Europe, are to be axed in order to finance a new Arab-language TV station. Among the ten services to go is the Czech Service, which has been on air since 1939. John Renner is a member of the World Service Management Board. He told Radio Prague why the changes were being made:
"This is one of the biggest changes that the BBC World Service has announced in its history. We're redirecting some 20 percent of the operating budget of the World Service, and we're doing this because of the pressures that we face in media markets around the world. Shortwave radio broadcasting, which has traditionally been the World Service's strength, is under pressure; it's in decline in many parts of the world. We need to put more resources into fewer markets. And so we've announced that we're starting Arabic TV, because our radio services to that very important part of the world are under pressure and television is the main news medium there. Sadly, because our budget is limited, we simply have to reprioritise."
The BBC currently broadcasts five hours of news and current affairs in Czech on 12 FM frequencies across the country. The Czech Service has never managed to win a sizeable share of the Czech listening audience, but their hard-hitting interviews and coverage of international news has no equivalent anywhere on the country's airwaves. The BBC's John Renner says he recognises the substantial contribution made by the Czech Section, but explains the World Service's priorities have simply moved elsewhere.
"We have to recognise that the Czech Republic has changed a lot in the last fifteen years or so. It now has a free media. The Czech Service started broadcasting within a week of the outbreak of the Second World War. It then continued broadcasting through all the years of Communism. It's done a fantastic job, and we recognise that it's continued to do a very good job up until the present day. We're very proud indeed of what the Czech Service has managed to achieve now on FM around the country. But there are other parts of the world where there is a greater need for the impartial and independent news and information that the BBC World Service provides. And we simply have to put more resources in that."
Programmes in Czech will disappear by January, though the BBC World Service will continue to broadcast in English on FM. How long for remains to be seen. The BBC has a licence to broadcast on FM until 2012, but that licence was granted on condition the station would broadcast some programmes in Czech. With the Czech section gone, the future of the BBC in the Czech Republic is now uncertain.
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