Whatever the rights or wrongs, their justification or otherwise, the recent cuts to the BBC's World Service caused no small amount of controversy and opposition.  

They were announced in advance and were presented as part of a fundamental restructuring programme to meet a 16 per cent savings target required by the Government's Spending Review of 20 October last year. Five full foreign language services would be closed, radio programmes in seven languages would also end and most remaining short and medium wave radio services faced a phased reduction.  Even the excellent flagship "Europe Today" programme was axed.

The BBC provided figures on the amount it expected to save as a result of the restructuring and how the cuts would affect its global audience figures.

The NUJ and other bodies (including the AUGB) protested, a hearing was held, but the cuts ultimately went ahead.

Now move over to Ukraine.  Midday, 25  May, 2011.  Offices of Ukraine’s World Service Radio. 

world-service.jpg General Director of the National Radio Company of Ukraine, Taras Avrakhov, without forewarning, explanation or any additional comments, notified Ukraine’s World Service Radio journalists about the immediate and definitive closure of the World Service’s UKRAINIAN LANGUAGE section.  No official documents were proffered to support or substantiate his decision. The 40-odd journalists within the Ukrainian language section were told that they could all now apply to work as sound technicians because there was no longer a Ukrainian language service. 

In reading this you may feel that the end result was the same and… so what?  Indeed, perhaps this issue is not that important to everyone.

Yet there is a stark difference here in what was cut back and the execution procedures employed. 

Firstly, the BBC's World Service has not stopped broadcasting in English.  It essentially cut back on its foreign language programmes.  The Ukrainian World Service, on the other hand, has completely ceased transmissions in the Ukrainian language and, during our random tests throughout yesterday, has been broadcasting solely in English and German.

Can you imagine the outrage if the equivalent happened here in this country and the BBC World Service suddenly stopped all English language broadcasts and just slipped into French and German programming only? 

Even the Soviets made a token allowance for transmissions in the Ukrainian language via “Radio Kyiv” (albeit highly propagandistic)!!!

Secondly.  Was this really a decision based on the whim of one Mr Avrakhov?  Can this really be happening in President Yanukovych’s Ukraine without him knowing that his Ukrainian language World Service is being closed down - notably without his say so or any debate? 

Even if we were naïve enough to believe that Ukraine’s President knew nothing about this and if it was, indeed, such a transparent (one-man decision) open-and-closed case, the question remains, what is the President and his government (or Foreign Minister) going to do about it?

What makes this issue all the more disconcerting is the fact that the National Radio Company of Ukraine’s website has remained remarkably quiet on the subject.  You could be mistaken into believing that nothing has happened.  Openness?  Press freedom?

Thirdly.  It seems that anything can happen in Ukraine today.  The authorities there appear to be able to willfully impose their ideology on the population, which has little choice but to cower into accepting the abnormal as being normal. 

The President of Ukraine talked yesterday about his country’s European aspirations.  We verily support this ambition.  But it has a price which the President needs to guarantee in deed and not merely in pro-European rhetoric:   Human Rights, freedom of speech (including press-freedom), the right to assemble, transparent elections, the rule of law and an impartial judiciary, enforcement of anti-corruption laws, implementation of full democracy! 

This is a very clear and unambiguous strategic choice which Ukraine has to make.  If it wants to integrate, it will need to genuinely subscribe to all of the above European values and to normal practices.

The President of Ukraine should, at the very least, be alerted to the abnormal closure of the Ukrainian language service and, as a gesture of immediate goodwill, consider sending Mr. Avrakhov on indefinite gardening leave for his unauthorized unilateral decision and unprofessional behaviour, reinstate the 40 journalists and restore the Ukrainian language radio programmes on Ukraine’s World Service!



Ukrayinska Dumka


Great Britain The Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain has many branches throughout the country. Select a branch below to find out more information.