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A new era of media freedom in Zimbabwe?

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Dave Lee | 13:28 UK time, Friday, 16 April 2010

By Penny Vine

Living in Britain - during an election campaign as we are now - I find it difficult to imagine what it would be like only to have a monopoly state-run radio and television with no outlet for independent voices. But in Zimbabwe - there is only state-run broadcasting.

A Zimbabwe Media Commission has been appointed and last month declared its intention to promote and protect the media - and of course - the BBC is now allowed to send its reporters openly into the country. Does this mean a new era of media freedom may be getting closer? Not according to Rajan's guest this week, Gerry Jackson. She's the station manager and founder of SW Radio Africa, a UK-based radio station staffed by exiled Zimbabwean journalists. She thinks no real progress will be made as long as Robert Mugabe remains in power.

And radio listeners in Somalia have also had a raw deal this week. Not only have many stations stopped broadcasting music on their airwaves because an Islamist group declared songs un-Islamic, but already, five of the BBC's FM relays in Southern Somalia have been closed down by a different Islamist group, Al-Shabab. We have a response from the BBC World Service's Head of Africa region Jerry Timmins on the show.

Also on the programme this week, we hear from Guy Thornton - a listener in the Netherlands - who had queries about the World Service website. He wasn't the only one to spot that our podcast hadn't been available last weekend. Apologies! It's there now.

We spoke to Susie Goldring, the Editor of the World Service website, who responded to Guy and told us about plans to improve the schedules and documentaries sections of the website. Below she explains more about the forthcoming changes and improvements.

Improving World Service Programme Information Online By Susie Goldring

Over the last few months, we've been looking at redeveloping the How and When to Listen Index on the World Service website. In particular, we want to make the information as clear as possible - so that it's easier for listeners to find out when a particular programme is on and how they can listen to it.

We know that it's difficult for listeners to find out when a programme is being broadcast and the scheduling information itself can be quite disorientating. The World Service schedules are dependent both on the way you choose to listen - whether you are listening via FM radio, DAB radio, online or satellite for instance - and where you are listening from. So, a user wanting to find out what programmes are being broadcast in Accra via FM radio for example, will be offered a different schedule to someone wanting to find out when a programme is on in Brussels, via satellite.

We're going to be launching the updated How and When to Listen Index at the end of May, which will make programme schedule information clearer to the listener, as well as more information about the different ways you can listen to the World Service from where you are.

Another development we are currently working on is redesigning our Documentaries Index. We often receive emails from listeners saying that they only heard part of a documentary on-air and want to listen to it again online. Our documentaries are currently listed by their title in alphabetical order - however with names such as Shed Men and Return to Trebizond - it means that if you don't know the title of the documentary, it can prove challenging to find it again online. We're now going to be tagging and grouping our documentaries by topics so you are able to find them more easily under issues like 'health', 'politics' and 'religion' - this will also make them easier to find across the BBC website as a whole.

Finally I'm pleased to say that the World Service website has received a Webby nomination for our podcast service. With over five million downloads per month, the World Service English and language podcasts are some of the most popular across the BBC, so it's great to see this reflected by the industry's most prestigious award. If you're a fan of our podcasts you too can vote via the Webbys site.

Penny Vine is the producer of Over To You

Over To You is your chance to have your say about the BBC World Service and its programmes. It airs at 00:40, 03:40 and 12:40 every Sunday (GMT).


  • Comment number 1.

    Thanks to Susie Goldring for her response, both on air and here online, to the points I raised.

    Excellent news about the plans to find when a particular programme is on. The one thing I would say is, please, keep it simple. Before the website was redesigned last year there was an index of programmes in alphabetical order with full broadcast times for each programme in every region. An easy, clear overview. Plus it was separate from the schedules, an advantage when schedules are not available (as has happened more than once recently) as it gives a back up to find out when a programme is on.

    Good to hear Podcasts have been nominated for a webby and I shall probably vote, certainly if you can sort out some of the kinks. One of the reasons given for a podcast not being available was copyright. Fine, in which case say on the podcast page that week "Not available for copyright reasons".
    When a podcast is missing for other reasons there needs to a quick and easy way to get in touch with podcasts to rectify the situation. There used to be but it no longer works. And when a podcasts is missed is it possible to make it available later? I would put in a plea for the 3rd part of the Global Business programme on Rwanda and the Global Art podcast on Charlie Gillet. Both where missing and nothing happened even though I contacted the programmes. And it was not a question of copyright - the charlie gillet programme was even highlighted on the WS home page with a link for the podcast. Just there was nothing there.

    Finally on the schedules. Why the wholesate changes between the summer and winter schedules? Our listening habits don't suddenly change between summer and winter and when that season ends they revert to more or less as they where in the previous summer or winter. Of course if a new programme is being introduced or one dropped this is a good time to do it but why have different times of broadcast, not just compensating for the hour clock change, and frequencies of programmes? We know the time a programme is on and then have reducate ourselves.

    As for frequency to give one example. From Our Own Correspondent. In the winter schedule over a weekend there where five broadcasts of the programme. Now it has been reduced to one. If you can't listen then you've missed it. The podcast for the WS FOOC edition has been dropped and listen again is not always an option. This example refers to broadcasts on the Europe Schedule but there are other examples in other regions and FOOC is by means the only programme.

    There is a lot more could be said about the website, especially navigation in programme pages, and schedules but maybe that's for another time. The six monthly schedules at least have been updated (and incidentally that was the only link I could find for them and it's not clearly obvious) but why is the WS broadcast on 648 kHz currently down 12.00-13.00 CET? I haven't heard any explanation and there is no reason given on the website.


  • Comment number 2.

    Contrary to the criticism of BBC coverage of Zimbabwe's anniversary, I thought the program about farming was deftly constructed to let the two faces of Zimbabwe reveal themselves: the reality of the fallow fields and the resulting poverty contrasted with the revolutionary "party line". Rather than editorialize about the fallacies of the party line's empty words, the program let reality itself reveal the lies of Mugabe's ZanoPF. In addition, the sophistication of the program's construction let me sense the entrenchment of the lies that miss the point: living in a bubble of hate against the past denies Zimbabwe a positive future on all fronts... economically, socially and politically.


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