Alagiah: 'Foreign news vital to BBC4'

BBC presenter George Alagiah has rejected claims that foreign news could be "ghettoised" on BBC4.

Alagiah, who will anchor the main news bulletin on the digital channel, argued that it was even more vital at a time when news budgets were being cut "across broadcasting".

Speaking as the BBC unveiled its "highbrow" channel ahead of its launch next month, Alagiah claimed there had been "a retreat from serious foreign reporting right across broadcasting". The £10m cut in ITN’s news budget following the signing of a new contract with ITV would have an even greater impact on foreign news coverage, he said.

"We all remember Sandy Gall and the heyday of foreign reporting, but what effects are those cuts going to have on foreign coverage," said Alagiah. "Where is the editor who, when faced with those cuts, says, ‘I’ll make them on home but we’ll preserve foreign’. I don’t think so."

The new daily half-hour bulletin will devote more time to stories, with greater emphasis on providing background and context. Some news items will begin with live two-ways with correspondents and there will be more live interviews.

"I believe BBC4 News goes a long way towards addressing the imbalance in foreign coverage, something I’ve spent 15 years of my career challenging," said Alagiah, who in the past decade has worked as the BBC’s developing world correspondent and Africa correspondent.

"I certainly wouldn’t want to be involved in anything that played a part in marginalising foreign news. I think it’s a bit like going into the library and picking out the right books. Is my book, A Passage to Africa, marginalised because it’s not in the front lobby of the bookshop? Not really, it’s where it belongs."

Alagiah will be presenting the programme with chief correspondent Kirsty Lang who is still working out her contract on Channel 4 News.

BBC political editor Andrew Marr will also be a regular presenter on one of the new current affairs programmes lined up for the channel, The Talk Show, in what the BBC described as "an exploration of ideas, culture, politics, society and global issues".

By Julie Tomlin

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