You can have indie, but we won’t pay for Indian

BBC Asian NetworkIt was a day of mixed news yesterday for varied, intelligent programming on radio, not to mention my own DAB listening.

The BBC’s digital radio stations 6 Music and the Asian Network – which serves not just the UK Indian community, but the wider South Asian one – have been under threat of closure since March.

They are the only stations I tune into, as I wrote earlier here, so the news that the ‘indie’ 6 Music has been saved was tempered by the bitter knowledge that the Asian Network would now be on the way out.

The BBC Trust – the body that represents the views of licence payers – put this in altogether more anodyne corporate language, saying in its press release: “As things stand, the case has not been made for the closure of 6 Music.”

So that seems good news, and I should be celebrating. It has after all been ages since I found a radio station that so closely matches my musical tastes as well as the ‘indie‘ music 6 Music mainly plays.

The trouble is that over the last two years I’ve been increasingly listening to Asian/Desi/Bollywood music as well. Between the two radio station, and thanks to a recently purchased DAB radio (specifically for these two stations), I reckon I’m listening to the radio more now than at any time since my late teens.

Unfortunately, when it came to the Asian Network the Trust had this to say:

“We acknowledge the Asian Network is performing poorly and the case for closure could be consistent with the strategy we are setting; we would consider a formal proposal from the BBC to close it but would need to be convinced that any alternative proposed would be a clear improvement in terms of overall public value for British Asian audiences.”

It acknowledged the Asian Network does deliver some real value to its audience, but noted the station has had “performance difficulties” for some time, including a 6% decline in listeners among Asian adults and a sharper fall in younger listeners.

In fact the writing’s seemed to be on the wall since protests against the Asian Network’s closure, led as far as I could tell by sterling efforts by Bobby Friction, were over-shadowed by a well organised and vocal campaign in support of 6 Music . It’s also surely telling that yesterday the only report I saw to address the Asian Network’s fate head-on, rather than as a side-line in a 6 Music headlined article, came from India’s Hindustan Times.

So this is going to raise big questions (though probably not well-reported ones) as to the future of the BBC’s coverage of Asian music. If it was previously so under-served as to merit the establishment of the Asian Network as a digital radio station in 2002, what’s changed? How will this commitment be met in the future?

Will there be room for new (Friction) or mainstream (Asian Network Chart) Asian music? What about those of us who Love Bollywood or want something in Bengali.

The Trust has said it does want alternative proposals for its future Asian music coverage, which will then be subjected “Public Value Test”. But when the Asian network costs roughly a third more than 6 Music, but attracts about half of its audience, that coverage looks set to be radically slimmed down – as does my cultural life.

This post was written listening to the Asian Network on BBC iPlayer.

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