by Andy Sennitt
BBC World Service is suspending its FM programming to the Sri Lankan national broadcaster SLBC from Tuesday 10 February due to deliberate interference of its broadcasts by the Sri Lankan network. BBC programmes and individual news reports in the English, Sinhala and Tamil languages have been blocked by SLBC and have not been broadcast to listeners in Sri Lanka.
The BBC noted 17 instances of interference to BBC Tamil and eight similar instances to BBC Sinhala broadcasts between 27 November 2008 and early January 2009. Sometimes whole current affairs segments of BBC programming were not broadcast on SLBC.
The BBC expressed its concern directly to SLBC Chairman Hudson Samarasinghe in a series of letters and meetings throughout December and early January. The BBC made it clear to SLBC that such interference and blocking meant that BBC programming was being editorially compromised by SLBC’s actions and this was contrary to the BBC’s contractual agreement with SLBC.
Despite the warnings, last week there were several further instances of interference to BBC programming in all three languages being broadcast on SLBC. There have been three instances of interference on BBC Tamil output, one on BBC Sinhala and two instances on the English language programming in the past 10 days.
BBC World Service Director Nigel Chapman says: “We are dismayed that the BBC’s programmes in the English, Sinhala and Tamil languages have been interrupted on the SLBC network. We are equally disappointed to see that our programmes continue to be interfered with even after our representations. We have no choice but to suspend broadcasts until such time as SLBC can guarantee our programming is transmitted without interference.”
“In order to cover news events in the most comprehensive and balanced way for our audiences, the BBC adheres to specific editorial values that include impartiality, editorial independence and seeking a relevant range of views on any topic. In this way we can meet our audiences’ high expectations and maintain our reputation as the world’s most trusted international broadcaster.”
He said: “The BBC has had a very cordial and effective partnership with the SLBC since 1998 – part of a strong relationship with listeners in that country that goes back to the 1940s. We are keen to keep this relationship going provided that SLBC adheres to the agreements we have with it. But at the heart of these agreements is the guarantee that our programmes in English, Sinhala, and Tamil are broadcast uninterrupted. If this can not be guaranteed we can not continue our relationship.
“We are prepared to have further discussions to resolve this issue and will investigate any specific detailed complaint SLBC may have about BBC output. So far, no specific complaint has been raised.”
The BBC’s services in all three languages remain in Sri Lanka via shortwave; on bbc.com/news, bbcsinhala.com and bbctamil.com via the Internet; and news bulletins in English are available via the Sri Lankan commercial broadcaster MBC.
These are the short wave frequencies and timings to hear BBC services in Sri Lanka:
- BBC Tamil: 1545-1615 UTC on 6135, 7205 and 9540 kHz
- BBC Sinhala: 1630-1700 UTC on 7345 kHz and 9615 kH
- BBC World Service in English: Radio frequencies for South Asia. Mainstays of the 24-hour a day coverage (but mainly daytime) are 17790 and 15310 kHz . Evenings: 11915, 9740 kHz, 7355 and 5975 kHz.
(Source: BBC World Service Press Office)