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BBC to End its Radio Broadcasting in Post-Socialistic States

BBC World Service, which is a U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office-funded Broadcasting Services Organization in 32 languages world wide, will close its broadcasting operations in Azeri, Turkish, Ukrainian, Vietnamese and Russian, as well as in five languages of Balkan Republics due to the drastic budget cuts by the British government from Saturday March 26.

The broadcasting operations are going to close in Serbian, Portuguese, Macedonian, Albanian, and English in Balkan republics Serbia, Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Kosovo.

Only the agency’s web sites, featuring online broadcasts in languages mentioned above will remain in operation.

BBC already has closed its services in Bulgarian, Slovenian and Croatian.

“I can’t advise the British government on how it should spend its money, but this is a sad thing,” Leonid Gozman, co-chairman of the pro-business Right Cause Party, said to The Moscow Times by telephone.

“Now we are able to listen to variety of radio stations, but possibly a day will come when we would again have to turn to foreign radio stations for the truth,” Gozman said.

The Russian Service began broadcasting to the Soviet Union in 1946 and quickly established a reputation with Soviet listeners, in the brief period before the onset of the Cold War.

From 1949 until 1987, the jamming of the signal by the Soviet authorities consumed vast amounts of money and technical expertise. For many years, a significant part of the USSR’s entire radio broadcasting system was devoted to blocking transmissions from abroad.

According to the BBC Europe, despite Soviet jamming, millions were listening to BBC radio broadcastings in Russian by shortwave during the Cold War. The total audience reached 6 million by 1999.

In its heyday, the Russian Service provided a full range of news and current affairs, analysis, musical, medical, scientific, cultural and religious programs. In the past week, the Russian Service has revived some outstanding material from the archives: an interview with Paul McCartney and a ground-breaking hour-long, live studio interview with Margaret Thatcher, answering questions from listeners across the Soviet Union.

Among the service’s most popular programs was music show “Rok-Posevy” (“Rock Seeding”), hosted by iconic rock journalist Seva Novgorodtsev since 1977. He was awarded the Member of the Order of the British Empire in the 2005 Queen’s New Years Honors List for his services to broadcasting.

“Unlike many other ‘enemy voices,’ the BBC dedicated more time to music and culture,” political analyst, and a long-term listener, Stanislav Belkovsky said. For him the first hook was even more exquisite — a show dedicated to 17th-Century English philosopher Francis Bacon.

The closure was not entirely unexpected after the Russian BBC left the FM broadcast band in 2007, switching to middle waves and losing a chunk of its audience in the process.

“I think we have already lost the majority of our audience, when we switched to medium waves. I don’t think so many people will notice the disappearance,” a BBC Russian Service employee told to the Russian business daily Vedomosti.

However, the BBC is planning to concentrate in TV programming in Indian languages like Urdu, Hindi, and in Sub-Saharan Africa in the days to come with additional funding.

The BBC is aiming to cut expenses by 16 percent by 2014, when its current government grant ends. Axing the foreign-language broadcasts is expected to result in net savings of £46 million (US$74 million) – and the loss of some 30 million listeners worldwide, the broadcaster said in a January statement.

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