Alan Kasujja, BBC World Service, Bola Mosuro, Julian Keane, Kathy Clugston, Katya Adler, Lawrence Pollard, Lyse Doucet, Marion Marshall, Neil Nunes, Nkem Ifejika, Owen Bennett-Jones, Stephen Sackur, Stewart Mackintosh, Sue Montgomery
From: Ben Bennetts
Sent: Saturday, October 8, 2016 10:21 AM
Subject: BBC World Service Comments
I’m an insomniac; well, not really but I often wake up during the night and while waiting for further sleep I listen to the BBC World Service on my bedside radio. I do so, on and off, from around 2 AM to around 5:30 AM when, finally, I give up on further sleep and arise to start my day. I do this every night while I’m at home here in the UK. As such, I have some comments that might interest you.
First, the good news.
I enjoy most of your programs—Outlook, HARDTalk (full marks to Stephen Sackur), Click, Business News, Health Check, Newsday, Newshour Extra and more—these are all of interest and well presented. I’m neither a cricket nor football fan so Stumps and World Football leave me cold and hasten my return to slumber but I appreciate that some of your listeners will find an interest here. Book Club sometimes catches my attention. I’ve rarely heard of either the author or the book but I am a writer and sometimes I pick up on interesting points to do with character development or plot twists.
Now the bad news.
Every 30 minutes, you broadcast a 2-minute/5-minute news summary. I especially look forward to these summaries but boy oh boy, have you mucked them up! As the time approaches, first we get a presenter (female, I’ve never found out who she is but she’s always “on air, online, on mobile—broadcasting to a global audience”) telling us in a strange accent with even stranger intonation and cadence that “The news is next but first…” and then she proceeds to inform about an upcoming broadcast in a few days’ time. Or we get the same person in a recorded sound bite telling us what a wonderful service is the BBC World Service, with extracts from introductions to “our international correspondent Lyse Doucet…”, “our European Editor Katya Adler…” and someone (I can never catch the name) who is “live from the jungle”. The jungle? What jungle? The constant repetition of these pre-news snippets drives me mad. I wonder if you really need to keep playing these reminders when you could have used the time more usefully to extend the previous program.
Then we get the trademark BBC pips heralding the start of the news. Great, I think, now comes the news summary. But no. Instead we get another two minutes of sound bites telling us about what’s coming after the news summary in a few minutes time! Don’t do that. In a few minutes time I get to hear exactly the same comments again. All you need to say is “After the news, Stephen Sackur will be talking to God in HARDTalk.” (That would be an interesting edition of HARDTalk!)
But, finally, sometimes at least two minutes after the pips, we get the news. Now maybe it’s my age (74), my sex (male) or maybe I’m just old-fashioned but I really do not want Stewart Mackintosh saying “Hello” to me in that pseudo-best-buddy tone at 3 o’clock in the morning. A simple “I’m Stewart Mackintosh with the BBC World Service news…” is sufficient and more in keeping with the BBC’s dignified style for reading the news. Presenters Sue Montgomery (her of the oh so sultry sexy voice), Kathy Clugston (lovely Irish accent) and Marion Marshall all have attractive voices and can sometimes lull me back to sleep. But what about Neil Nunes? I groan when I hear him start talking. I am sure he’s a lovely lovely man but oh that voice! It’s even plummier than Prince Charles and it drives me nuts. Neil Nunes is the only person I know who pronounces the word World as Wer–Hurled with that little glottal stop in the middle: BBC Wer-Hurled Service. Say it out loud. That’s how Neil says it.
One final comment, on names. Some of the Newsday presenters have difficult-to-pronounce or unfamiliar names (for me, that is). I’m thinking of Nkem Ifejika, Bola Mosuro and Alan Kasujja. (I had to go to your website to discover how to spell these names.) That’s not their fault and it’s not a criticism but when they introduce themselves they do so very quickly and it comes across as a phonemic jumble that fails to link into a coherent word. You could maybe suggest they introduce themselves more slowly to give us older listeners a chance to catch their names more clearly.
Lawrence Pollard and Julian Keane, also Newsday presenters, get a clean record sheet when it comes to announcing their names but at the risk of sounding sexist or racist or xenophobic (or whatever non-PC label fits), their names are very English.
That’s it. Keep up the good work and I hope you find my comments useful. I also hope that Owen Bennett-Jones (Newshour Extra) will someday be able to add the “S” to the end of his 15-character-limited Twitter handle @OwenBennettJone. He’s obviously got a bee in his bonnet about this. He tells us every time he presents Newshour Extra!
Footnote (1 November, 2016)
Mystery solved. In my article above I mentioned someone who is “live from the jungle” and queried who the someone was and in what jungle. It turns out that my cousin David also listens to the BBC World Service in the early hours of the morning and clearly has better hearing than me. His interpretation of the “… live from the jungle” statement is “Crème da la Menga, live from Majunga” (nice rhythm) but his wife Jenny has dug deep and found out that it’s “Nkem Ifejika, live from Majunga”! (Majunga, aka Mahajanga, is a city on the north-west coast of Madagascar.)
Phew, I’m glad that’s sorted. I will now enjoy the pre-news snippet knowing the identity and location of Crème de la Menga who’s live from Majunga!
Feri Ebbasi said:
Yesterday I googled “Alan Kasujja BBC World Service” and on the list of entries your article came. I read your letter to the BBC with great interest and felt re-assured that someone else is also questioning the output of this world famous radio station. I quite regularly wake up around 3.00 AM and struggle to go back to sleep. In the end I turn the small transistor radio on to listen to Radio 4 which broadcasts the world service from 1.00 am onward til 5.15 am. The programs are intelligible enough to understand and absorb even in the delirious state of mind in such ungodly hours. Good topics, solid research and presentation. However, from 4.00 am onward we are blessed with Alan Kasujja. I struggle to understand what he is saying, he has such a strong accent. I emailed BBC “Have your say” questioning the wisdom of using presenters with different accents and some being pretty inarticulate. I had no response. Did you contact them and did you have a response?
I mentioned the problem over breakfast with my wife and son some weeks ago. Both attacked me for being intolerant. I was told that Alan Kasujja should be given a chance even if has such a strong accent and being an African. I told them it is fine to give him and other non-English people a chance to work for the BBC but in this case he is working as a presenter and his “presentation” is not up to scratch. He could work behind the scenes as a journalist but not as a presenter. I am a non-English myself. Listening to the BBC World Service radio helped me with learning English as a second language. The BBC accent was the standard to refer to and emulate in the past. Surely there must be other Ugandans with a clearer and more neutral accent to present the programs?
It is annoying to see that the most innocent of insomniac’s remedy is being spoiled!
Ben Bennetts said:
Thanks for taking the time to read my blog and post your comments. I have a couple of observations.
First, I agree that Alan Kasujja’s Ugandan accent is heavy but surprisingly I don’t seem to have the problem you have. I say surprisingly because I am hard of hearing, bordering between moderate and severe, and I wear two hearings aids all day every day. But, when I plug in to the BBC World Service in the early hours of the morning, I listen directly through high-class earbuds and Kasujja’s voice comes in loud and clear. I have trouble with Nkem Ifejika’s Nigerian accent however! And as I said, the plummy tones of British-Jamaican Neil Nunes drive me nuts!
Second, if you look at my blog again you will see it is a reprint of an e-mail. I sent it to the World Service on September 8th last but never received a reply. I wonder why!
In general, the BBC World Service is well presented but occasionally I drown in heavy accents, usually from people who are being interviewed rather than the interviewers and presenters. I live with it. If the accents get too heavy, I use it as an opportunity to pull out the earbuds, switch off the radio, and try to go back to sleep.
Or, I get up, go to my laptop, and write another blog!
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