Thursday, October 26, 2006

DAY 2: BBC World Debate

Steven Sackur prepares for BBC World Debate
Originally uploaded by Jonathan Marks.

Day 2 at the WCCD conference in Rome started with an interesting insight into the way TV manages forums. It was a “live to tape” recording of an edition of BBC’s World debate series, this time on the subject of press freedom. People were invited to put their questions on a form – four were chosen and asked to ask their question during the programme. So it wasn’t quite like the BBC's Any Questions, where the host has a mix of prepared questions and reactions from the audience. Still, presenter Stephen Sackur is good at getting to the point; he’s firm but also fair. The title "Is a free media essential for development?" was, of course, open to what you mean by free. China seems to be developing quite well thank you without anything like a free press or electronic media. India has a great tradition of freedom of the press, but government TV and radio are a shambles. Sackur had a go at the DG of Nigerian TV Authority, Dr Tonnie Osa Iredia, pointing out that BBC WS radio relays on FM had been taken off the air in Nigeria. The response was that the BBC had not followed the right procedure and that Nigeria was unable to have equivalent access to the Nigerian diaspora living in the UK.

Daniel Kaufmann of the World Bank thought China would actually develop much faster, especially in rural areas, if they had freedom of the press. Press are good watchdogs on corruption. There are good examples in Chile, Costa Rica, and Benin where press freedom is contributing to development. But Kaufmann warned that for every country that sees the light, other countries are tightening the grip. So there may be new players in the last 10 years, but the overall progress is slow.

The programme was useful for the participants at the conference by demonstrating to both broadcasters and aid agencies that a lot of what’s talked about is full of their respective jargon. It brought a clearer focus to some of the discussions later that day.

The show is also aired on BBC World Service radio and Sackur had to record a whole series of continuity links before the mystified audience – presumably so editors can match the acoustics later. In the area of freedom of speech, I am more interested in countries that allow freedom AFTER a speech. A lot of self-censorship still goes on. I also get the impression that BBC World, CNN and CNBC are all watching each other – but ignoring the improved coverage that Euronews is putting out. Their coverage of the “non-Anglo Saxon” agenda is a lot better than it used to be.

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