by Michael Smith (Veshengro)
At the beginning of April the news reached us that the BBC was intending to cut broadcasting to the Gypsy and Traveller community.
Rokker Radio, the two-hour radio programme established two years ago by BBC for the Gypsy and Traveller community was to be axed at the end of April. As the show prepared to celebrate two years of broadcasting across local BBC radio in the East of England and across the world on the internet, the BBC had decided not to fund the programme beyond the end of April.
Each Sunday night, between 1900 hours and 2100 hours, that is to say, between 7pm and 9pm, Rokker Radio broadcasts to Britain’s Gypsies and Travellers, many of whom must drive long distances to hear it because they cannot receive it in their own area nor are able to listen to it on the internet. Not every Gypsy in this country has got a computer as yet, though there are more and more nowadays, and also not all areas are covered by broadband connections. Broadcast streaming is only a real feasibility with broadband. Others that can, obviously, do listen to Rokker Radio on the Internet, and not only in Britain alone. Rokker Radio is listened to by many an English-speaking Gypsy abroad as well.
Over the last two years, BBC Rokker Radio has attempted to address the lack of proper representation of Europe’s largest ethnic minority community in the media in Britain. It has raised issues of importance to the community whilst literally providing a common wavelength through which Gypsy and settled communities can begin to understand one another.”
Because of the unfortunate reduction in the BBC licence fee, regional management in the BBC have decided that it was too expensive to maintain. The £800 it costs each week to staff this vital service may well be in excess of the average cost of regional programming, but it remains the BBC’s only real commitment to date to the Gypsy and Traveller community. It is also insignificant compared to the financial commitment the BBC rightly gives to other linguistic, national and ethnic minorities across the UK.
With just one month before Gypsy and Traveller broadcasting is silenced in Britain, Gypsy and Traveller journalists, campaigners and Traveller education advocates launched a campaign to save and expand the programme. In an open letter to BBC Director General Mark Thompson, members of the European Romani Journalists Federation have started to campaign for equal representation on and within the BBC.
“The BBC should begin the process of dedicating the same level of resources to the Gypsy and Traveller community as it does to other ethnic and linguistic minorities in Britain. If it is right that the BBC broadcasts in Welsh and Gaelic and provides an entire network to the Asian community, it is also right that it provide the same commitment to Europe’s largest ethnic minority community, the Romany people.” said veteran Kosovan Roma Journalist Orhan Galjus.
He added: “Services in the Romani language are also badly needed to support and inform those communities who currently have no access to independent broadcasting. Across many parts of Europe a de facto apartheid blights the Romany community and it’s prospects. We urgently need the BBC’s help to inform and educate our 12 million strong European nation.”
While I agree with Brother Orhan as regards to the need for a radio service for the Romani People in the UK, the Gypsy People, and also for the Traveller community as a whole, in Britain we certainly, as a whole, do NOT need a Romani language service. However, a Romani language service on the BBC World Service might be nice for the Romani more outside the UK where Romanes in on or the other dialect is indeed spoken.
On April 5 what appears to be a victory had been won as, apparently, the BBC, under pressure from all those campaigning for Rokker Radio to remain (and be expanded), the BBC, apparently, backed down over it’s plans to end the only programme it has ever provided for Britain ’s Gypsies and Travellers. But I would suggest that we do not, as yet, count the chickens already for they are in fact not hatched as yet.
After a concerted lobbying campaign, by community members, as well as activists, journalists, writers, academics and teachers from the settled community, the BBC seem to have changed it’s mind.
I may be a cynic, that I for sure, but I will not believe it that they have backed down, on a permanent basis, until I see it in action and Rokker Radio remaining on air for years and years to come. We mist, however, be vigilant for they could just as easily axe it from on eweek to the next or curtail the broadcast times.
A statement from the BBC Press Office reads:
“There is no intention to close Rokker Radio. It is true that we have had discussions with the presenter about a range of options for the programme, including whether there might be potential for expanding the range and scope of programming covering these issues – for example by offering programming to other radio stations across the BBC local radio family.”
“We will continue to look at how best we can refresh our coverage and to ensure that we are achieving best value for our listeners, but we can reassure listeners that there is no plan to close the programme down at this time.”
“We are, however, keen to find new ways of reaching underserved communities, including the travelling community. It's important to explore options to provide wider and better coverage of the issues and concerns of this community across the whole of England, not just the East.”
“Technology is delivering a wide variety of new ways to deliver content to audiences and we will continue to explore a number of innovative ideas to help give the travelling community a voice and to improve understanding with the settled community of their issues.”
But while technology may be delivering a wide variety of new ways not all from the Gypsy and Traveller communities have access to computers and broadband I n order to listen, for instance, on the Internet.
This does go to show what people power can do. But it’s now time to meet constructively with the BBC at a senior level to discuss it’s overall representation of the Gypsy, Roma and Travelling community. Never again must we have to fight for our right to fair representation within the world’s largest media organization.
But, we must also remember that they, and the organization they represent, are Gadje (Gohja) and it is not the interest of the “dirty Gyppo” they intend to serve. They will only serve our interests if we stay on their backs. Is that the answer though?
Does this, however, prove, yet again, that only “Sin Fein”, that is to say, “ourselves alone” will work in anything we do. We cannot and must not rely on outsiders. They will as easy withdraw their supports, and they will do that faster than they ever gave it.
Maybe it is time that we, the Romani of the UK (and elsewhere in the English-speaking world) looked at an alternative radio medium to get a program such like Rokker Radio, or even Rokker Radio itself, out.
Shortwave radio is an option that, so it would appear, no one has looked at, actually, as yet, or AM radio even. A much greater coverage of the country could already be achieved on a medium wave channels while shortwave would make the program receivable, basically and practically, around the globe ON RADIO, depending on the person's receiver, though.
Campaigners will still be marking Romany Nation Day as planned by gathering outside Broadcasting House in London at 12:00 noon on April the 8th to hand in petitions in support of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller broadcasting before marking Romany Nation Day with flowers, music and food in Regents Park.
Broadcasting House is located at:
BBC Broadcasting House
Portland Place ,
London , W1A 1AA