Delwar Hossain, a schoolteacher of Sarail in Brahmanbaria, has been listening to BBC Bangla’s news since 2000. After tuning in to BBC Bangla on his radio for some time, he started listening to BBC Bangla’s radio programmes on his mobile phone.
Although the news is easily accessible on the internet, television and social media, Delwar still listens to BBC Bangla’s radio programmes on YouTube.
“I like BBC’s reports because their presentation is orderly and informative.”
He is upset that the BBC has decided to discontinue radio broadcasts in Bangla 81 years after they first started.
Radio broadcasts in 10 languages, including Arabic, Hindi, Persian and Chinese, will also cease, the British Broadcasting Corporation announced on Friday.
“Naturally, I’ll feel bad as I won’t be able to listen [to BBC Bangla’s radio broadcast],” said Delwar.
According to BBC Bangla, its radio broadcast began with a 15-minute weekly programme on Oct 11, 1941.
British novelist and journalist George Orwell was the Talks Producer of the BBC’s foreign countries department at the time. Programmes written by him were translated into and broadcast by Sudhin Ghosh.
After changes in decades of operation, BBC Bangla launched its website in 2005. It broadcasts Probaho at 7:30 pm and Parikrama at 10:30 pm daily on news and current affairs.
The discontinuation of the radio broadcast in Bangla is part of the BBC’s plan to close about 382 posts at the World Service as it “tries to make £28.5m in annual savings for its international services”.
Other proposals include moving some production out of London and closer to audiences - for example relocating the Bangla service to Dhaka.
The BBC is also making wider annual savings of £500m, with CBBC and BBC Four also scheduled to move online.
In January, former Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries announced the licence fee would be frozen at £159 for two years.
That, combined with high inflation and soaring costs "have led to tough choices," the corporation said.
Journalist-researcher Afsan Chowdhury worked as a reporter from 1993-94 for BBC Bangla and was involved in producing programmes for broadcast from 1995 to 2002.
He said: “I think the BBC reached people and developed a closeness with them. I can’t say how much the current media has been able to do that. It developed over a long period, not in a day or two,” said Afsan.
“The BBC had to overcome many hurdles. It was a place of trust. People believed in news published by the BBC.”
He recalled the important role the BBC played during the uprising of 1969 and the Liberation War of 1971 when it was the only international media accessible to Bangladeshis.
“They did the most reports and they were considered the most trustworthy by people because they had the Bangla service, which was important. And the Bangla service also produced content in English. This is why people listened to them.”
He thinks no other media outlet has worked more independently than BBC Bangla because it was “free of any government influence” and did not face political pressure. “Secondly, we didn’t have to give opinions.”
Afsan Chowdhury said limiting the broadcast to 1 minute and 10 seconds helped him learn how to express many things in brief.
He recalled how even the voices of BBC Bangla staff became popular among the people. “I remember visiting a village where a person said he knew me. When I asked how, the person said, ‘You are from the BBC.”
“Villagers used to record BBC’s broadcasts. This is how close the BBC was to the people.”
During the Liberation War, people used to gather at village markets to listen to the BBC’s Bangla broadcast.
Such a trend-led people to call a market in Pabna’s Pakshi BBC Bazar.
Jahangir Alam, a local freedom fighter, said most people had single-band radios at that time while a shopkeeper named Kashem Molla owned a three-band radio, which drew audiences of BBC Bangla to the market.
People even used boats to travel to the market and listen to BBC programmes, he recalled.
The Voice of America and Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendro also broadcast news, but people liked the BBC for its “impartiality”, he said. “And their presentation was also good.”
A unique style of presentation and objectivity in news analysis and reporting still make journalist Pintu Ranjan Orko listen to BBC Bangla.
“Even now, a person who has more information than others or spreads news is referred to as a ‘BBC’ locally,” he said, describing how popular BBC Bangla’s radio broadcast is.
In a 2016 blog post marking 75 years of BBC Bangla, its Editor Sabir Mustafa wrote: “The Bengali service has come a long way since those days of radio when deep-voiced presenters read the news and hosted talk shows that delved into the world of high culture. While radio continues to form a strong part of the service’s overall offer to its audiences - in Bangladesh, parts of eastern India and Arab Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - the content, style and formats have evolved. Original journalism is now what drives the BBC Bangla output, with a lot more news content from the region, particularly Bangladesh, and more stories generated by our own correspondents. Our programmes are pacier, and the language and tone are less formal – and hopefully more appealing to younger audiences.
“And if the changes that kicked off in the mid-1990s were about content and style, then the changes unfolding now encompass far greater areas. Technology is driving this evolution, forged by changing the habits of the new generation of news consumers. BBC Bangla is now firmly on a course to move to a fully digital future.”