Is BBC WHYS a first or a second rate show?

On BBC WHYS blog, a comment was sent by Thomas stating the following.

The BBC has the reputation of providing the highest standard of news and commentary. But the programme World Have Your Say tarnishes this – callers who can barely speak English, or accents that are too difficult to understand or contributions that consist of little other that “like”, “I mean”, and “ahmm”. The sooner this call in show is ended the better.
Clearly the BBC views it as second rate since none of its seasoned journalists present it.

To which Ros from WHYS responded below:

I’ll let others decide if I qualify as a seasoned journalist, but with regard to the quality of English being spoken….

We’d never put someone on air who doesn’t speak English that we can’t understand, but we will speak to people who speak English as their second language. I’m more than happy to bear with someone who’s speaking English slightly falteringly if I gain an understanding of a story of an issue that I couldn’t get without hearing from them. If need be I reiterate what people have said so we’re sure that everyone has understood them.

Of course it’d be easier to only hear from perfect English speakers but the programme would be far poorer for it and wouldn’t deserve its name if we did that.

It’s also worth saying that lots of Africans have told me they struggle with American accents and vice versa -English is spoken in a lot of different ways by a lot of different people and we don’t want to exclude anyone. If you actually can’t understand at all that’s a problem but I don’t accept that happens very often at all on WHYS. Speak to you tomorrow.

On my part I have the following to say:
It seems that some listeners like Thomas whose comment #21 is the subject of debate forgets that WHYS tries to reach all contributors from different parts of the world to have a world view of events that can be international or local. Its aim is to understand what the others want to say and not to expect them to say just what we like to listen to. This can be helpful in dispelling prejudices like people from poor countries have little to say as their material poverty can be equated in the minds of some with their poor knowledge. Issues are raised and discussed by listeners who are common people, not necessarily academics, and professional journalists – but at the same time they show good knowledge.

Contrary to what Thomas thinks, the contributors aren’t totally just common listeners. Thomas doesn’t appear to be a regular listener. One should listen to at least 100 WHYS shows and read at least 500 comments on the blog to be able to come up with a conclusion based on facts. There are from time to time distinguished guests, the latest of whom was Prince Hisham of Morocco. I can give just a few other examples: Pastor Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Jessie Jackson from the USA, Don McKinnon, the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Nations etc. There are also contributions from BBC correspondents who take parts in the show like Rob Watson, Richard Hamilton and Jonathan Marcus, not to mention academics and officials from different organisations. It may be interesting to watch this video entitled World Have Your Say Behind the Scenes

and to listen to this report about WHYS to get a general picture of WHYS is essentially about and how it differs from other news programs.

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As for the accents, it depends on the open-mindedness of the listeners. If they are open to different ideas, they can also open their ears to different accents and try to understand them. It can be a way of sharpening one’s linguistic skills. On the show it can be impossible to make out what people are saying when the lines are bad. But usually the caller is stopped and asked to speak again until the lines are clear. Personally, I get curious to know the accents of different people from different parts of the world. Just from the accent, it’s easy to discern the origins of the speakers, if they are Arabs, French, Russians, Pakistanis, Indians or Africans. (By the way sometimes it is difficult to say if a listener is Pakistani, Indian or Bengali as they ostensibly have the same accents.). There is also the presenter Anu Anand who has a multinational breed. She is Indian of origin, educated in the USA and now a British citizen. She has a unique accent. One needs to have fine hearing to discern the different cadences in her voice to trace her multinational background and to know the secret of her unique accent.

The flagrant remark by Thomas is when he said, “Clearly the BBC views it as second rate since none of its seasoned journalists present it.” Perhaps Thomas wants WHYS presenters to brag about their qualifications. Anu had an interview with Pakistani President Musharraf. If she wasn’t a seasoned journalist how could the BBC have sent her for the interview? For Ros, he doesn’t need to present himself. Those who want to know more about him and the rest of the team, make your own research. Those have Thomas’s views can get surprised. After all the BBC won’t allow programs presented about stories about whose depths the presenters aren’t knowledgeable. There are other seasoned journalists who presented the show like Peter Dobbie and Rob Watson. Does Thomas want the WHYS presenters and the rest of the team to be in their fifties or sixties to be convinced that they’re seasoned?

On the whole BBC WHYS is the most interactive programme of the BBC world service. The facts that it publishes comments criticising it even wrongly is an aspect of the confidence of WHYS team.

It seems Thomas is accustomed to getting opinions from specialised commentators on “formal” programmes and he didn’t come to absorb the fact that even common listeners can have good and provoking opinions. When one respects people and gets free of prejudices, it becomes easy to see the whole truth. Considering WHYS as a second rate means it should be like some news programmes in which only top officials are the sole speakers and whose opinions that only matter, ignoring the right of listeners or viewers to set their agendas and to talk to one another instead of being just talked to without being able to have their say. At least WHYS offers listeners the opportunity to be on air and to be able to communicate with different parts of the world.

1 Comment

  1. Bunc said,

    October 5, 2007 at 12:27 am

    I think its the height of arrogance for any of us native speakers of English to show intolerance of people who want to learn English and take the trouble to come to such a show to express their views.

    We English speakers should be humble about the fact that people all around the world have adopted English as the language of international discourse and we should be welcoming and encouraging of people who want to talk to us (and each other) in our own language.

    Just because someone’s English may be a little faltering does not mean that they do not have valid, useful and interesting contributions to make.

    Also, sometimes when a non-native person uses English they do so in a way which introduces new and pleasant nuances into the way the language is used. Some of the most poetic uses of English for example have come from those who did not use standard english – eg Irish writers etc.

    So more power to WHYS and its contributors. I dont get the chance to listen often though so perhaps I am defending the idea more than the implementation!

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