Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary memorandum from the BBC World Service


  Following the events of September 11th, the World Service received anecdotal evidence that people in Afghanistan, in areas like Kandahar and Kabul, listened to the BBC secretly in order to avoid any punishment or reaction by the Taleban. Limited audience survey work before the crisis indicated that some 72 per cent of Pashto language speakers and some 62 per cent of Persian speakers in Afghanistan listened regularly to the BBC World Service.

  BBC staff from the Pashto section and their families were not targeted directly by the Taleban. There were some pamphlets distributed in the South and South Eastern parts of Afghanistan with a general threat to the locals that anyone co-operating with Westerners would face the consequences, but there was no specific threat to the BBC.

  During the crisis, the Taleban could not jam the World Service, had they wanted to, as they did not have the technology to do this.

  One of the BBC's translators who worked for a BBC correspondent resigned early in 2001. Although we have no proof, we believe that the translator was persecuted by the Taleban as a result of his work for the BBC. He told us that he no longer wished to work for the BBC. The World Service arranged for him and his immediate family to leave Afghanistan, and he is now living in another continent.

  Kate Clark herself was thrown out of the country in March 2001 because of BBC Pashto reporting of the damage to the Buddha statues. She returned when the Taleban left the country, and is still there now.

  There is evidence that the Taleban, including their leaders, were very keen listeners to the World Service themselves, despite the fact that they disapproved of the service. Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taleban, gave his only broadcast interview to the World Service after hearing an interview with Tony Blair during the height of the crisis, proving that he was a regular listener.



  BBC Mandarin programmes broadcast on short wave to China have suffered from strong co-channel interference since 1989. This co-channel interference comes from other radio stations that broadcast from within China. The effect is to make BBC programmes either completely unlistenable or very difficult to listen to. Because of the timing of this interference, which start and stop at times that coincide with the timing of BBC programmes, the view of BBC engineers is that this is deliberate and is meant to jam BBC short wave broadcasts.

  Such interference has never been total: of the five frequencies used by BBC Mandarin programmes, all are affected some of the time, but never all of them all of the time. The result is that normally at least one frequency gets through very clearly and one or two are listenable if you concentrate.

  English radio programmes have never been jammed. There can sometimes be problems in audibility caused by geographical features (eg high mountains) or skyscrapers, but so far we have not noted deliberate interference.


  The whole of the BBC Online site is blocked in China. This includes the English site as well as Chinese and all other language sites. The blocking is very effective although it is possible to side step it by using proxy sites to gain access to the BBC. However, some influential organisations in China, for example research institutes, universities, some media groups and some senior officials, have access to servers that are not affected by this blocking. This means that they can access all BBC sites, including the BBC Chinese site.

  At the same time, the BBC has formed some very productive partnerships within China using educational material. In particular, BBC World Service Education has worked with Radio Beijing to produce English teaching radio programmes. Using a Radio Beijing announcer, these programmes have been designed in close collaboration with Radio Beijing and will be broadcast by them as well as by the BBC Chinese Service. The BBC and the British Council have also worked together with a Chinese partner, the Chinese Central Radio and TV University (which specialises in distance learning) to establish a joint web site aimed at learners of English. This site is available to all online users in China.

  Co-operation with radio stations in China has also been possible. The BBC Chinese Service has just concluded a multi-media project on smoking with a major radio station in China. This involved a radio series made by a BBC Chinese journalist, the co-hosting of an "Any Questions" type debate in China which could be heard on the radio and was also web cast straight onto the Chinese radio station's internet site as well as onto the BBC Chinese site. The project also included an interview with the Chinese Minister of Health, conducted by the BBC Chinese Service.

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Prepared 14 November 2002