'Vital' BBC Monitoring service should be paid for by government not fee payers, says union

BBC Broadcasting House. Picture: Reuters/Paul Hackett

Withdrawing government funding from the BBC’s Monitoring arm was a “mistake”, claims the National Union of Journalists as it hails the service an “important national security resource”.

The union is urging the government to heed a report on the service by members of the Foreign Affairs Committee that said the decision to pull funding from it in 2013 should be reversed.

BBC Monitoring translates and analyses news and information from freely available media sources in more than 100 languages across 150 countries.

A £4m reduction in funding to the service has resulted in 98 jobs being cut (out of a department of 320 staff), of which 40 per cent were in the UK and 20 per cent abroad.

Stuart Seaman, BBC Monitoring chapel father, said: “The committee confirms what the union has always said: the withdrawal of government funding from BBC Monitoring was a mistake.

“It saved pennies in the short term, but diminished an important national-security resource in the long term. The government should heed the committee and undo that mistake.

“It should be investing in Monitoring and recognise that this team of expert, multilingual and diverse journalists cannot be replaced if it allows the service to wither on the vine.”

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet added: “As the UK faces unprecedented uncertainty following Brexit, as tensions between Russia and the West increase and so-called ISIS spreads terror around the world, the government is in greater need than ever of an extensive and well-resourced monitoring service; and it needs to pay for it.

“The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Ministry of Defence, Department for International Development and Cabinet Office could easily share the costs.

“It should be the tax payer, not the BBC licence fee payer, who should fund this vital national interest service.”

Crispin Blunt MP, chairman of the FAC, said: “BBC Monitoring is a highly regarded organisation whose work is more important than ever. These cuts to BBC Monitoring, proposed by the BBC, are simply not in the interest of the UK government.”

A BBC spokesperson said: “We welcome the Committee’s support for BBC Monitoring’s work. We are confident we can continue to meet the Government’s needs after our restructure, which we think is essential to equip BBC Monitoring for the twenty-first century.

“We will continue to honour the licence fee agreement from 2010. However, if the UK Government decided there would benefits in offering additional direct funding to BBC Monitoring, we would be happy to consider this.”

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