The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee today urged the Government to ring-fence the BBC World Service from spending cuts.
As part of a spending review unveiled last October, the Government announced the BBC would take over the cost of running the World Service from the Foreign Office from 2014.
The Government later cut Foreign Office funding for the service by 16 per cent, and in January the BBC announced plans to close five of its 32 World Service language services. According to the BBC this could potentially result in the loss of up to 650 jobs.
A report published by the FAC today claims the decision to transfer funding responsibility to the BBC ‘will have major long-term ramifications for the future of the World Service”.
FAC chairman Richard Ottaway MP said: ‘The BBC World Service has been described by Kofi Annan as ‘perhaps Britain’s greatest gift to the world’. The value of the World Service in promoting the UK across the globe, by providing a widely respected and trusted news service, far outweighs its relatively small cost.
‘The recent dramatic events in North Africa and the Middle East have shown that 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.”
The report goes on to claim there is a ‘discrepancy between the relatively small amounts of money needed to avoid the most damaging cuts to the World Service and the scale of the Department for International Development (DFID) Spending Review settlement”.
A transfer of 0.35 per cent of the DFID’s spending budget to the Foreign Office over the next three years would balance out the 16 per cent cut to the World Service, it is claimed in the report.
The NUJ has backed the committee’s findings, with general secretary Jeremy Dear commenting: ‘The attempt to cut the BBC World Service has inspired a level of international protest which echoes everything that BBC journalists have said about their concern for the service they provide.
‘We hope, and demand, that the Foreign Office and the Government now listen to the Foreign Affairs Committee when its considered report so clearly agrees with all that opposition to cuts.
‘Let’s not mince words. The report shows that the cutters have got it badly wrong in attacking the BBC World Service. This report is an opportunity to reverse that disastrous policy.”
The World Service costs £272 million a year to run and claims an audience of 241 million across radio, television and online.