I like Woman's Hour on Radio 4, hosted by Martha Kearney or Jenni Murray (pictured), who are quintessential Radio 4 female voices. For the record, the last time I checked, which wasn't too long ago, I am not a woman. I can't put my finger on why a programme about the female condition would interest me so. Perhaps to help my pulling power. Maybe not. I've already failed on that front. Anyway, it has gems (I don't use that word lightly) like Makosi expressing regret for not being a better role model while on Big Brother. The idea that people go on Big Brother think they'll become role models is a novel one, and only a programme like Woman's Hour can voice such an idea without sounding ridiculous. On Saturday's edition, Dora Akunyili, director of Nigeria's NAFDAC, talked about her experiences in her current position. She has had to dodge bullets, have her offices burnt, just so that ordinary Nigerians have faith in the medicines they use. Woman's Hour deals with issues affecting women, but the broader context is that of women in society. Unless you're an arch-Thatcherite, you'll agree that there is such a thing as society, and for better or worse we are part of it.
The Guardian was the first daily to have a woman's section in its pages, and it is always a good read. It appears only right that a section of society that has been ignored by a mainstream media run by old white men in suits is represented by specialist sections dedicated to those not catered for. This doesn't amount to misandry, but it is a balancing of centuries of prejudice and discrimination. Just like there is nothing wrong with forms of media aimed specifically at members of ethnic minorities.
I just found a host of columns I wrote years ago for my university newspaper, the Badger. Most of them are woeful, the rest however, are horrendous. And for those reasons , I will torment you with them:
BBC Radio's new digital radio station Asian Network was launched in late October, hot on the heels of BBC's 1Xtra. Asian Network is described as British Asian Radio, while 1Xtra is described as New Black Music. One of the first guests Asian Network had was Home Secretary, David Blunkett. He was blitzed by callers demanding whence he got the his audacity to comment on what language Asian families should speak in the privacy of their homes. More pressing I believe, is the actual legitimacy of the stations, 1Xtra and Asian Network, not their legality but their cultural legitimacy.
There is dissent in the media at the constant expansion of the BBC monolith, encroaching on independent broadcasting terrain, and overstepping the boundaries of its mandate. In the case of 1Xtra, there is the issue of definition of black music and the debate that black music is already mainstream, and the superfluity of a dedicated medium. From the names and descriptions of these stations, it appears that national radio is being divided along racial lines.
The issue of a black music station is somewhat easy to resolve. Having listened extensively to 1Xtra I can confirm that is indeed a black music station, which revolves around the cultures that surround hip-hop, garage, RnB etc. In no way is it exclusive to black people, as the artistes and listeners of music of black origin transcends racial barriers. There are programmes aimed at black communities, but the mainstream popularity of black music ensures that, non-black fans of black music will not feel left out.
Asian Network, however, is concerned with the Asian experience in Great Britain. This invariably excludes non-Asian listeners for several reasons. The station is not concerned with a particular niche of Asian culture that might have the mass appeal of black music. It is not concerned with the mass appeal of Bollywood or Eastern religions. The station is all encompassing, therefore, non-Asians might feel left out unless they have an explicit interest in the Asian experience, or they tune into a specialist show.
Asian Network has cultural legitimacy for one main reason, the ethnically polygenous Britain we live in. The ethnic minority communities generally have extremely strong ties to their ancestral homes, the languages are still spoken (as Mr. Blunkett noted), customs observed, religions practised. But, there is no doubt whatsoever that British culture has contributed to creating the people they are today. People describing themselves as British-Indian or British West Indian is commonplace, an acknowledgement of their Britishness and also a remembrance of their intercontinental roots. Mainstream media caters for the British branch of people's psyches but does relatively nothing for, say, the culture of Asians.
Now, the major gripe of opponents of stations such as Asian Network is this: If people are British, they should listen to British radio and not some foreign malarkey in some incomprehensible language. They perceive that these stations help with marginalising ethnic minority communities. By continually exposing them to something that isn't British, they lose touch with mainstream culture. And if they ignore mainstream culture, they become left out of a community of listeners, watchers and readers, that are predominantly white. This in turn leads to inhabitants of the same stretch of land that have no similarities in their view of the world, hence causing the extreme forms of misunderstanding that occurred in Oldham in the summer of 2001.
The counterarguments in favour of stations such as Asian Network, thwart all others. Human beings are not programmable machines that drop unwanted baggage when prompted. Were this the case, the minority of people who actually swear allegiance to Her Majesty on becoming British citizens would have to renounce old customs and cultures in the same oath. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18 states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”. Denying people a forum to express thoughts relating to their culture is surely a breach of this right.
Mainstream media should make provision for fringe voices, but financial constraints prevent this, along with the possibility of sidelining the main demographics of a nation. This is where stations like Asian Network are useful, representing the minority life. As for creating a society out of touch with its surroundings, these stations perform the converse, strengthening ties with their immediate neighbours. The BBC have already said that there would be no need to asianise certain news items such as the fire brigade strikes, as I'm sure Asian skin burns in fire the way black, white and purple skin does. However, what Asian Network will do more than anything else, is be a mirror where British Asians can reflect on the Asian experience in Great Britain. And it this self reflection that aids greatly in dictating the manner in which people react to their habitat.
This article appeared in the 05/12/03 edition the Badger.