There are fears for the future editorial independence of the BBC after news journalists were ordered to come up with money-generating ideas for the corporation, a leaked email reveals.
BBC bosses have told reporters to think of money-making schemes and present them to their line managers at forthcoming job appraisals – raising concerns that the organisation's prized editorial standards will be compromised by commercial imperatives.
The 2,400 staff working in the BBC's Global News department, including the BBC World Service, have been told that they must now "exploit new commercial opportunities [and] maximise the value we create with our journalism".
The BBC is currently the subject of a major investigation by the media watchdog Ofcom into how it allowed news documentaries and other editorial programmes for BBC World News to be commercially influenced. The BBC has broadcast a global apology for serious editorial errors.
But financial limitations resulting from the last licence-fee settlement, which has led to 20 per cent budget cuts over five years and the loss of 2,000 jobs, have caused the corporation to look for other ways to raise funds.
Peter Horrocks, the director of BBC Global News, has told journalists that their career appraisals will be based in part on their ability to generate money. "I would like each of you to contribute to the delivery of these objectives," he writes. "With the income objective, let us know if you have any ideas on how we can strengthen our commercial focus and grow income" – making it clear that this will form a key part of their job appraisal.
One BBC journalist told The Independent: "A commercial imperative is now weighing on the shoulders of every BBC journalist across [BBC] Global News."
There is special concern that the breadth of coverage on the BBC's World News channel – which generates money from advertising and from deals with international broadcasters, hotel chains and other distributors – could be compromised by the pressure to focus on regions where commercial opportunities are greatest. The website BBC.com also carries advertising overseas.
There are also fears in the newsrooms that BBC World News coverage in sensitive areas such as China might be affected by the need to maintain advertising revenues.
The order has shocked veteran figures of BBC news. John Tusa, the former head of the BBC World Service, described the development as "appalling". He said: "I can't think of any other head of the World Service who would have used vocabulary like that to tell his broadcasters and journalists what to do."
Mr Tusa, managing director of the World Service between 1986 and 1993, said: "The notion that as a journalist you are having to think about how you can sell or turn your output into money is just so wide of the mark. If he [Horrocks] pushes it too far he can start to undermine the values of trust on which the BBC World Service news has existed for 80-odd years. It sounds like management gobbledy-gook."
Michelle Stanistreet, the general secretary of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), called for the BBC to drop the policy. "Telling all BBC global news staff to use their appraisal meetings to contribute towards the corporation's commercial growth plans is a shocking development and threatens the ethos at the heart of public service broadcasting," she said.
"The BBC is funded by the licence fee and should not be guided by commercial imperatives – the new staff appraisal plans are outrageous and should be dropped immediately."
Mr Tusa added: "World Service news has always taken the whole world as its subject area, and a major story can come out of anywhere. If you start saying there are priority areas we will cover and more obscure areas we will pay less attention to, then you will undermine the overall values on which the BBC World Service has always worked and built its reputation."
Mr Horrocks's email continues: "These objectives apply to all parts of Global News: editorial and non-editorial, as no matter where you work, you can help meet these objectives. They have been designed to encompass all departments, using strengths and expertise of all members of staff.
"Please use these objectives during your appraisal to talk through with your line manager what these objectives mean to you as an individual and your role in the fulfilment of them."
Steven Barnett, professor of communications at the University of Westminster, said: "Everybody understands that the BBC is under huge pressure to generate more revenue after the licence-fee freeze. If they're going to start putting revenue-raising before the highest editorial standards it does raise serious questions about whether they have got their priorities right. We expect the BBC to promote journalism but not necessarily entrepreneurialism."
The BBC denied that the objectives would compromise the organisation's news values. "The BBC's public-service mission to provide impartial and independent news will always take precedence over wider commercial goals and nothing in this email suggests any different," it said in a statement.
"The BBC's plans for its international services have included commercial targets set by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and have been endorsed by the BBC Trust, to maximise the value of our intellectual property and to reinvest in more high-quality, impartial news for audiences. The BBC's international news services such as BBC World News and BBC.com already have a long tradition of generating commercial income to reinvest in independent public service journalism, and these objectives simply aimed to reflect that."