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Radio Survivor's Top Radio Shows – Matthew's #2: BBC World Have Your Say

BBC World Have Your SayI am totally addicted to listening to BBC World Have Your Say. To a degree this is a guilty pleasure, since some of the episodes definitely ask reality show questions. Right now I’m auditing a discussion titled “Should Fat People Pay More?” when they buy airline tickets and other items—with a weight sensitivity activist saying no and a hard nosed New York kind of guy saying yes.

But what I totally love about the show is that it really is the English speaking world having its say. The debate between the New Yorker and the weight activist is over. And WHYS Ros Atkins is announcing who is on the lines. “I can see Barbara’s phone from South Africa, Cathy in Sweden, and also John in the [United] States,” Atkins says. Plus e-mails are coming in from Kuala Lumpur and elsewhere. Most are in favor of the extra charges, as is Cathy.

“Discrimination usually applies in cases where the person has no control . . . ” she says, “therefore gender, ethnicity, your age, for example. In my opinion obesity is for the most part a choice.” Next comes an economist who says higher prices for unhealthy foods might encourage people to lose weight. After he’s finished Ros puts on Barbara from Johannesburg, but surprises her with a question about whether a “fat tax” would get people to slim down.

Barbara stumbles. She wants to talk about people in airplanes feeling “squashed” by bigger folks. “But Barbara, you’re describing what other people think. I want to know what you think . . . ” Ros insists, and the global conversation goes on.

Do me a favor

Not all the shows ask Oprah style questions. “Should Google pull out of China?” “Would you adopt a child from Haiti?” or “Have the French done Muslim women a favour?” by proposing a ban on Islamic face veils? Is the Burka a symbol of oppression and empowerment?

In response to this question a Muslim woman from London named Saramina says it should be a woman’s choice what to wear. She’s obviously upset and angry. WHYS host Nuala McGovern is attentive to her and takes pains to ensure that she says everything that’s on her mind. The French banning the Burka is “just a form of extremism,” she insists, no different from the Taliban making women wear it.

Next comes some vox pop the BBC collected from Paris on the question. Parisian women struggle with the English, but they make their positions clear. “In her country,” one insists, “but not in France!”

Another British woman who says she wears the hijab  opines that in some instances Muslim women in France may be forced to wear the niquaab, a head/veil that leaves only the eyes revealed for vision. “Yes, I’m sure that it does occur,” responds Saramina. “Like men force women to do all kinds of things. And of course she should have some legal recourse from that.”

A woman from Saudi Arabia calls in. “Strange for the government of France, which claims to have invented liberty, they do something like this. It’s kind of upsetting.”

I love it.

How it works

As I was writing this post, I got a press release from Stitcher billboarding the Alan Colmes radio show, or “the most interactive radio show on the planet,” as he calls it. I’d be surprised if that was true. Broadcasting since 2005, WHYS is a beneficiary of the revolution in electronic interaction of the last decade: texting, e-mailing, cheap VoIP calls, and social media. Here’s how people get on the show, according to WHYS.

1. They phone the show while we’re on air.

2. They text or email the show while we’re on air, and we reply asking if they’d like to speak to us.

3. They text or email the show while we’re on air and give their phone number and we ring them back.

4. They post on a debate on bbcnews.com and leave their phone number. One of the WHYS team gives them a ring and invites them on to the show.

5. The same as No.4, but they get in touch through our blog.

6. Subscribers to the WHYS Daily Email often reply saying they want to take part and give their phone number.

Of course, WHYS staff also call people up and invite them to be on, but the show wouldn’t be possible without the amazing global interaction that is its hallmark. The program’s FAQ asks, “Why are the phone lines so bad?”

“We’d like to think they aren’t most of the time, but we do sometimes have problems especially when speaking to those of you in Africa,” comes the explanation. “So if we get a call from Afghanistan we’re more likely to tolerate a poor quality phone line than we would if it was a call from the States.”

Could a program of WHYS’ quality come from the “the States”? It’s not surprising that Britain, an island nation that once controlled a big chunk of the world, excels at this sort of thing. While we in the U.S. certainly have our fingers deeply ensconced in the global pie, we are as a people far less curious about the world than the British. That’s something to work on. Listening to WHYS could help.


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2 Responses to Radio Survivor's Top Radio Shows – Matthew's #2: BBC World Have Your Say

  1. Kindi Jallow February 4, 2010 at 12:33 pm #

    I can’t just believe my ears to hear Zuma having a child outside marriage, having four wives, having unprotected sex with a HIV infected woman, the list go on and on and unashamedly called it African. A leader should be like a roll model who has an examplary life and character. I wonder if this is the type of attitude he wants to inspare and influence the young in SA.

  2. Sayedur March 14, 2011 at 12:33 pm #

    Nice piece!
    I’m addicted to WHYS too.

    I like your concluding remarks. I always wondered why a state as mighty as USA cannot even come close to UK in the Radio/TV arena in terms of quality and listener/viewer satisfaction. I think you said exactly what I liked to think in my mind.

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