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BBC Asian Network could do better

This is a guest post by MixTogether is a volunteer-run website providing friendship, advice and moral support to mixed (mixed race, faith or caste) couples whose relationship is opposed by family or community. For the majority of our nearly 400 members, the opposition comes from within the Asian community.

After 4 years of running the site, we recently came up with this proposal for a new show, aimed at mixed families, on the BBC Asian Network.

The proposal has a Forward written by Parveen Bird and her husband John Bird, founder of The Big Issue. It also has letters of explicit support from

* the Equalities and Human Rights Commission,
* Jasvinder Sanghera (who is the most prominent campaigner against forced marriage and honour based violence),
* Ann Cryer, Lab. (the most prominent Parliamentary campaigner on the same issues),
* Vince Cable, Lib Dem (whose late wife was Indian)
* Rishi Saha (the Conservatives’ Head of New Media)
* People In Harmony (the longest-established charity campaigning on mixed-race issues)

It is hard to imagine a more convincing array of people coming out in support of this proposal. Their letters are unequivocal.

MixTogether members also wrote to Vijay Sharma, head of Asian Network, to explain their circumstances and express interest in the proposed show, as audience members.

In spite of the widespread and mainstream support for the proposal, BBC Asian Network have declined to create the show, or to make any changes to their output that might indicate approval of mixed relationships.

The full text of their letter is here.

The central plank of their argument- that they do not wish to place Asians into boxes based on ethnicity, religion or language- is nonsense. There is an established precedent for the station to broadcast to specific Asian sub-groups.

Their weekly schedule includes separate shows for Mirpuri, Bengali, Gujurati and Punjabi listeners, along with a two separate Hindi/Urdu shows. There are separate devotional sounds programmes for Islam, Sikhism and Hinduism, plus another mixed devotional sounds programme that includes Christian music. There could easily be a show for mixed families.

They state:

‘Our aim has always been to help the whole Asian Network audience to understand the issues facing mixed race families rather than just broadcast to the mixed race group’.

In practice this means that during their periodic talkshow discussions on mixed marriages, they give airtime to Asian people with the most odious views on the ‘evils of mixing’ (some claiming religious backing), in the name of a balanced discussion.

White people with similarly negative views on race mixing are quite rightly not given any airtime elsewhere on the BBC, so why does the Asian Network feel obliged to air such views? They have recently (24 April) aired calls from Asian people who have openly admitted being racist. They are broadcasting a message that the BNP would wholeheartedly agree with.

After all the recent campaigning around forced marriage and ‘honour’ crimes, and the high profile test case of Dr. Humayra Abedin, it should not be a matter of debate as to whether the BBC Asian Network says explicitly ‘it is OK to marry your choice of partner’.

If necessary though, have a debate. Ask the listeners whether THEY believe there should be a show for mixed couples. Decide it democratically.

There is no truly convincing reason why the Asian Network should not have a show for mixed families. What the rejection of the MixTogether proposal really illustrates is that the BBC Asian Network is a hostage to the negative attitudes of parts of the Asian community regarding mixed marriages.