Dhiren Katwa, senior news editor at Asian Voice, spoke at the Coventry Conversations series on Thursday about the possibility of the BBC’s Asian Network being scrapped in the face of strategic cuts. He said Vijay Sharma, head of the Asian Network, has been “in hiding” over the current situation.
The Asian Network’s audience fell by 15 per cent to 357,000 in the third quarter of last year, and is expected to struggle for survival after director-general Mark Thompson’s forthcoming strategic review of BBC programming.
Katwa, a member of the Equality Council of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), said he thought it would be a shame for the Asian Network to go, but added that he didn’t believe the BBC should be specifically broadcasting to minority groups. He told the audience that “with the Asian Network working within a silo, it’s promoting or contributing to segregation rather than integration”. He said that the solution is to embed minority targeted elements of the BBC more firmly within the corporation.
When asked about the network’s fall in ratings, Katwa said commercial competitors such as Sunrise Radio had contributed to the network’s struggle to reach it’s young target audience, but put its current problems largely down to “a lot of internal issues”.
Caroline Thomson, the BBC’s chief operating officer, told the House of Lords Communications Committee on Wednesday that the idea of one network serving the UK’s entire Asian community wasn’t the right way to represent such a large and diverse audience.
Katwa echoed her assessment in his talk, and suggested that “the BBC Asian Network needs to be embedded within the BBC as a corporation with more faces from black and Asian backgrounds.”
Sharing Katwa’s view, broadcast journalism lecturer and founder of Coventry Conversations John Mair added: “There is no role for something separate or segregated, it should just be part of the mainstream. Not ‘now Radio Four’s Asian hour’, every hour should be Asian hour”.
Katwa said at the talk that his opinions were his own and did not necessarily reflect the views of Asian Voice.