The government argument for ending the service, which began transmission in 1941, is that Mandarin broadcasts are no longer cost-effective:
Due to the jamming of short wave radio signals by the Chinese authorities over decades, BBC Chinese’s radio programming in Mandarin struggles to make a lasting impact and reaches a very small audience [595,000] given the size of the target population. Given the financial pressures, the service will refocus away from radio to concentrate on its online provision, which – while still subject to control and censorship – has greater future potential for growth. With rapid technological changes happening in China (the biggest broadband and mobile market in the world), the BBC will strengthen its online offer; continue to explore opportunities on new platforms such as mobile phones; and invest in new technologies to facilitate content delivery to its target audience in mainland China and to Chinese communities abroad. BBC World News, the BBC’s international English language news and information television channel, is available in China, generally without restriction, and is estimated to have a bigger audience than the Mandarin radio service.
But Peter Pomerantsev, whose father worked for the Russian Service, argues in Newsweek that the cuts are short sighted, and describes the impact of the World Service in the former U.S.S.R.:
It was my grandfather’s secret life and hidden ritual, but one that he shared with millions across the globe. Throughout the 1970s, in his tiny Kiev apartment, my grandfather would wait until his extended family was asleep, tiptoe to the kitchen, quietly switch on the transistor Spidola radio, and gently push the dial to shortwave. He wiggled and waved the antenna to dispel the fog of jamming, climbed on chairs and tables to get the best reception, steered the dial in between transmissions of East German pop and Soviet military bands, pressed his ear tight to the speaker, and, through the hiss and crackle, made his way to these magical words: “This is the Russian Service of the BBC. The time in London is 10 o’clock.” …
On March 22, many of the BBC Radio Foreign Language Services were silenced as part of the British government’s budget cuts. No longer will the BBC talk on the airwaves in Russian, Hindi, Mandarin, Turkish, Vietnamese, Azeri, Ukrainian, Albanian, Cuban-Spanish, Portuguese-African, Serbian, Albanian, or Macedonian. The station will have 30 million fewer listeners a week. There will be some websites and podcasts in the dropped languages, but these will be of limited relevance. Even in a fairly developed country like Russia, only 20 percent of the population has access to Internet connections fast enough to listen to audio podcasts ….
Now that “London time” has been silenced, it is the audience who will suffer least. They can tune in to a host of new radio shows and other media developed by the dictatorships. And though Congress is threatening budget cuts, there’s still the American Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty—in lieu of London, one can keep “Washington time.” No, the loss of the World Service is all Britain’s. In the place on the dial where my grandfather used to hear the words “The time in London is … ” there is only a hoarse hiss and crackle. We are losing our voice. Are we to become history’s mutes?
See also: has a collection of photographs on the BBC Chinese website from throughout the service’s history.