How the closure of the BBC Asian Network will affect British-Asian Women

by Shiha Kaur // 1 April 2010, 19:31

The BBC’s decision to close 6 Music and the Asian Network has been widely reported in the media. In my first post as April’s guest blogger, I would like to explore how the decision to close Asian Network will affect women from a British-Asian background.

The Asian Network has provided a foot in the door for many Asian women wanting to work in the media, some of whom have gone on to work in other areas of the BBC. Sonia Deol, Anita Rani, and DJ Kayper have all had successful careers outside of the Asian Network. They also act as role models for the current generation of Asian girls, who usually only have doctors or bollywood actresses as parental approved role models.

In some Asian families, listening to English radio stations or watching English television is discouraged. Many Asian parents feel that some English media promotes values that are not compatible with their own, such as sex before marriage. Even though it is a part of the very English BBC, Asian Network is considered safe to listen to, as the music and presenters are Asian. Critics have claimed that the Asian Network has done little to help Asians integrate into British society. However, for many Asian women, especially those who have grown up in the sub-continent, the station is an opening into mainstream British culture. News items from other BBC outlets are regularly re-worked into a format suitable for Asian Network and BBC Radio 4 often borrows stories picked up on by the Asian Network.

The brilliant programme “Asian Network Reports” is not afraid to tackle controversial topics concerning women, such as the abortion of female foetuses, hymen reconstruction and the demand for Indian women to star in porn films. I can’t think of many media outlets, either in the UK or in India that would investigate these issues. These are subjects that I believe Asian women should inform themselves about and without the Asian Network this is virtually impossible.

As part of the BBC, the station is free from issues that affect other South Asian radio stations. Often run with a religious or linguistic bias and heavily influenced by leaders of the local communities, these other stations rarely hold open debates and mainly focus on listener requests. Far from providing independent competition to the Asian Network, many Asian radio stations, especially those in the London area, are owned by the Sunrise Radio Group. When the Asian Network closes, the community will be left without a credible alternative.

Asian Network is far from perfect and I never thought I would be campaigning to save an organisation whose management team consists of entirely of men, but it is the only radio station that comes close to meeting my needs as a British-Asian woman.

Comments From You

Ally // Posted 01 April 2010 at 20:02

And doubtless could have been used by many non-asian women seeking to gain an insight into the lives of British women with Asian cultural origins. A sad loss of variety an intellectualism in broadcasting.

I wonder what the reasoning is behind this particular cut.

Alice // Posted 01 April 2010 at 20:14

Thanks Shiha. Whilst I also care about radio 6, I am really conscious how this is buried under that debate. I was really convinced by someone speaking about the need for the Asian Network before in the context of the need for more secular and 'free' (for want of a better word) output, and now even more so. Is there a campaign, or template letters or suchlike?

Jeff // Posted 01 April 2010 at 21:00

"I wonder what the reasoning is behind this particular cut. "

If I had to make a wild stab in the dark, I'd say cost cutting by getting rid of what the beeb no doubt views as it's "least important" networks.

Ally // Posted 02 April 2010 at 10:28

Of course, but they have to make a decision about which those are on the basis of something. I guess it must just be audience numbers.

Lynne Miles // Posted 02 April 2010 at 12:31

I think this is really important - I'm quite conscious that all I've heard so far about BBC cuts/restructuring is a bunch of middle class white indie boys complaining about BBC6. Good to hear someone talk about the importance of the Asian Network too. I have to say, not being much of a radio-head myself, I've never listened to either, but the Asian Network sounds worth a listen. Maybe I'd better give it a try whilst I still can...

Charlotte // Posted 02 April 2010 at 13:27

I find it really frustrating that the high-profile campaign for Radio 6 has completely overshadowed the Asian Network.

I have never even listened to Radio 6, but I listen to the Asian Network a lot and I'm gutted to lose it!

Especially since 1Xtra has taken on the misogynist Tim Westwood for its drivetime show, I and a lot of feminist minded people I know have switched our allegiance to the Asian Network.

Now there is going to be no national radio station showcasing the music I'm into without exposing me to serious misogyny at the same time.

Shiha Kaur // Posted 02 April 2010 at 18:27

There are various reasons given why the Asian Network is closing. One is the digital switchover. Most people don't listen to the station on DAB and Asian households are among the social groups who are least likely to own a DAB set.

As for cost, the Asian Network at 6.9 pence per listener hour it is actually quite good value for money compared to 29.4p per listener hour for BBC Alba. Local Radio costs the BBC 133 million per year to run, whereas the Asian Network costs 12.1 million. The costs of Radio 1, Radio 2 and Radio 3 put together are about £145m. BBC3 costs 10.6p per user per hour. But it's not just about cost. Listener numbers have been falling for sometime. My own theory behind the listener numbers is partly because they change presenters and shows around quite often. The radio industry in general is in a bit of a crisis due to competiton from internet based broadcasters and the rise of the ipod.

The station is of course for everyone, not just Asians and is great for getting an insight into Asian Britain. Women's Hour on Radio 4 usually reworks a story from Asian Network every so often. The language programmes are listened to by language learners all over the world. "Paathan's musical rickshaw", a specialist music programme which was sadly axed, used to have listeners in South America. The "Asian Network Reports" investigations are still availible online and cover loads of feminist issues from an Asian perspective.

Full details of how to help save the Asian Network are on the facebook fan page or on the appropriately named www.savetheasiannetwork.com

Feminist Avatar // Posted 02 April 2010 at 19:04

Just to be annoying- BBC Alba is a TV station, which costs 29.4p per viewer hour, not listener hour. So, isn't quite comparable- though I am sure the overall point stands. At the same time, I am not sure that arguing against other minority groups is always the best strategy when it comes to the allocation of resources. The point is everybody should have some representation on TV/ radio etc, regardless of the size of their community, even if that means the cost per head is slightly higher. It should be about equality of representation rather than cost per head.

Hannah // Posted 02 April 2010 at 19:42

Jeff and Shiha, I also read in some of the guardian articles around the time this decision was announced that it was because the BBC thought that Asian Network had 'served its purpose' (not a quote, just what I remember of the statements) and that there was no longer a need for it. Clearly a lot of people think there is a need for it, though. It seems like it's just another aspect of the BBC moving away from providing for people with interests that aren't part of the mainstream and moving towards even more generic programming.

I love 6music but have never listened to the Asian Network. I felt pretty awkward around the time this issue was getting a lot of publicity and everyone seemed to be writing about 6music but sweeping the Asian Network under the carpet. I guess that maybe a lot of the people who like 6music felt like me, fairly sure that Asian Network is also important for a group of people but that it would be a bit imperialist for us white indie kids to speak on their behalf, especially if we've never listened to the station.

Jeff // Posted 04 April 2010 at 00:56

Thanks Hannah. Upon reading your comment I began to wonder exactly what the Beeb considered the Asian Network's "purpose" (which they see as fulfilled) to be. Somehow, I doubt I'd get a straight answer on that.

George // Posted 30 April 2010 at 22:21

excellent article. to be fair, the management also includes Vijay Sharma as Head of the Network who mos def a woman. You should email this srconsultation@bbc.co.uk.

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