Election train

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election_train

The BBC coach. Photo BBC

The BBC has been receiving some stick from some of its UK listeners and viewers for hiring a train to cover the election in India. The following comment is typical of some of the criticism received.

Would Mr Biswas or one of his colleagues care to justify the cost of hiring and repainting a train to bring us coverage of a far away election? Given the terrible economic difficulties we’re facing, wouldn’t it be cheaper and just as informative simply to tell us who’s won when the election when it’s over?

Such comments are wide of the mark. Peter Horrocks, the BBC’s Director of the BBC World Service, robustly defends the election train.

Using a train allows us to journey through this vast country, reaching remote locations. The journey allows us to assess issues like the economy, regional differences, religion and caste identity etc. Our teams are not remote from the story. At each stop, they will be reporting from the location, mixing with people and reporting their views to the world. They won’t just be doing this for English-speaking audiences. They will also be reporting in 13 languages, including Hindi, Somali, Urdu, Tamil, Burmese, Vietnamese and Arabic.

So why use a train and why paint it with the BBC logo? Trains are an iconic form of transport in India. This train will carry our broadcasting facilities and act as a mobile studio. It’s a practical way to allow the BBC team to cover the vast distances and to get a little bit of sleep between their hard work in each location.

Lastly, I should address the cost of the train. The UK licence fee is only making a minority contribution to the cost of the project. The overwhelming majority of the other funding comes from the BBC’s commercial global news revenues and from the World Service. Bringing the various sources of BBC funding together like this gives great value for money.

I think few international news organisations would have the scope to attempt to bring this intriguing election to life in this way. Our audiences around the world should find something of fascination from this imaginative exercise.

BTWT applauds the BBC’s initiative.

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