BBC's World Service income should be ring-fenced

Ian Burrell,Media Editor
Wednesday 13 April 2011 00:00
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The BBC's World Service is so valuable to the UK its income should be ring-fenced and a 16 per cent budget cut reversed, a parliamentary committee has said.

The Foreign Affairs Select Committee began an inquiry into the 79-year-old service after jobs and services were cut following Foreign Office funding cuts. "The recent dramatic events in North Africa and the Middle East have shown the 'soft power' wielded through the World Service could bring even more benefits to the UK in the future than it has in the past, and that to proceed with the planned cuts to the World Service would be a false economy," said Richard Ottaway, the committee's chairman.

The Government has reduced the World Service's £237 million-a-year budget by 16 per cent and ordered the BBC to fund the service from the licence fee from 2014. The BBC then cut five foreign language services - Portuguese for Africa, Caribbean English, Macedonian, Serbian and Albanian. It estimated more than 30 million listeners would be affected, a sixth of the service's global audience, and the changes would lead to the loss of 650 jobs from a workforce of 2,400.

"We do not believe the decision to transfer funding responsibility for the World Service from the FCO to the BBC will make the World Service's funding more secure," said Mr Ottaway. "No transfer of funding responsibility for the World Service from the direct FCO Grant-in-Aid to the BBC should take place until satisfactory safeguards have been put in place to prevent any risk of long-term erosion of the World Service's funding and of Parliament's right to oversee its work."

MPs found the Service successfully promoted British values across the globe and had a reputation "exceeded by none".

They highlighted how discussions between the Government and BBC about changing the funding structure started nine days before the formal announcement, with Foreign Secretary William Hague agreeing the deal only 48 hours earlier.

The committee's report said: "The decision was essentially financial, taken at very short notice, albeit with the full agreement of BBC top management." It called for the 16 per cent cut to be reversed and support for shortwave services in Hindi, Mandarin and Arabic.

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