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Airing your views in restricted areas

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Rajan Datar | 13:02 UK time, Friday, 30 October 2009

The media loves an anniversary - and as anniversaries go, they don't come more gift-wrapped than 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall.


The BBC World Service has joined in the celebrations, with a number of documentaries and features commemorating the collapse of the Iron Curtain.

Perhaps the most authoritative account will come from Sir John Tusa's documentary "How the Wall Fell" which is aired this week on the network and hears first-hand accounts from politicians and diplomats involved in easing the transition.

It's easy to forget how different the world was in 1989 and the geo-political significance of the divide between East and West in Berlin. Indeed, Over To You's producer, Cathy Packe, remembers being there before the Wall came down and having to negotiate the heavily-fortressed security station, "Checkpoint Charlie" just to pass from one side of the city to the other. It's hard to imagine, if you haven't experienced it, what it must have been like.

I was in the city myself a few weeks ago, and I not only witnessed the preparations for the anniversary but also experienced a buzzing, multi-media metropolis rich in creativity and design.

Cable, satellite, internet, a plethora of radio and TV broadcasters, social media, Twitter....you name it, it's there, reflecting the cultural energy of Berlin.

That is in sharp contrast with the restrictive media environment imposed by the East German government before '89, as recalled on this week's Over To You by listener Morand Fachot.

In a fascinating interview he tells me how East Germans managed to get access to TV stations from the West and how that led to a mass exodus from the country. "People started taking their cars and travelling to Poland, to Czechoslovakia, and trying to get into West German compounds, which eventually forced the East German authorities to ban all travel", he say.

Governments restricting free and open media is not something that just belongs in the history books. Take India, often described as "the world's largest democracy", which doesn't allow news and current affairs to be transmitted to its citizens on FM unless it's provided by state broadcasters.

This clearly affects the BBC's Hindi Service but on this week's programme its boss, Amit Baruah tells me about a new programme -  BBC India Bol - which is based on the World Have Your Say format. He believes that far from "dumbing down" the service - a criticism often made of phone-ins - it will encourage intelligent debate of social and political issues from well-informed listeners.

As he says in the interview, "Indians need to be well-informed about the world, and they usually are. But I think with the kind of pressures we're seeing commercially on many news organisations in India, I think that will make more people turn to the BBC"

The new BBC Hindi programme is half an hour in length, just once a week - and judging by its initial success, I suspect India Bol will be pushing for more airtime in the near future.

So, if you are a critic of this kind of radio programme, do you accept that in the present media climate in India, the BBC can make it a positive and constructive force? I'd be interested to hear your views.

And there's one more development this week that we at Over To You think is very positive: the programme is now finally available as a podcast - which means you can listen to it whenever and wherever you like. To find it, click here (note: first podcast will not be available until after this week's show has aired.)

Rajan Datar is the Presenter, Over To You

Over To You is your chance to have your say about the BBC World Service and its programmes. It airs at 10:40 and 23:40 every Saturday, and at 02:40 on Sunday (GMT).


  • Comment number 1.

    As an American, I am very grateful to still have access to your network. I call you: "Radio Free America," for your broadcasts provide what no media outlet in the United States does: in-depth world coverage. In the US what goes for news coverage is much more likely to be nothing more than masked propaganda. This has had a part in the dumbing down of my fellow citizens and the polarization of opinions along lines of thought as espoused by self-serving talking heads. It's really come to that; fan clubs of loyal listeners, who want no argument to be heard other than their own. Thank you, BBC for providing the last nugget of sanity left in the media world.

  • Comment number 2.


    Thanks, for the excellent reportage about reporting from
    restricted areas....

    =Dennis Junior=

  • Comment number 3.

    Thanks for your interesting article. As for East Germany with no access to free media, particularly "western media", the reality goes far beyond "imposing restrictive media government".
    East Germany cheated the world public by calling itself the German "Democratic" "Republic", in fact it has been a communist dictatorship that imprisoned its own people. The socalled "state security" spied out if people watched western TV and everyone knew that telephoning was listened to by that organisation. At the East German TV there has been a broadcast called "The black channel" moderated by a communist that condemned weekly (!) every event or action that has been taken place in the Federal Republic of Germany. In the very last days of the GDR I witnessed this programme myself and it was such a shocking experience that the official propaganda of the GDR was so extremely.
    At least the East German Television apologised to their own people for their cheated and propandistic behaviour. The East German TV could not exist in a united Germany because nobody trusted in their reports any more.


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