There’s a storm brewing over the cuts facing the BBC World Service, after a cross-party collection of MPs demanded a U-turn on the decision to salvage the broadcaster’s global reputation.
The Commons foreign affairs select committee said there are “long-term ramifications” for the international broadcaster as a result of the 16 per cent budget cut imposed on the service by the government earlier this year. Now, the committee is calling for the World Service budget to be protected to “prevent any risk of long-term erosion of the World Service’s funding and of parliament’s right to oversee its work”.
The committee has labelled the cuts a “false economy”, pointing out the value of the service in the wake of uprisings in the Middle East. With the world’s focus turned on such events, committee chairman Richard Ottaway said the World Service “could bring even more benefits to the UK in the future than it has in the past”, by promoting the UK across the globe.
To reduce its budget by £46m a year, the World Service is in the process of axing five of its foreign language services. As things stand it will cut around 650 jobs and lose approximately 30 million listeners from a worldwide audience of 180 million.
The calls for reversing the cuts will no doubt be supported by World Service director Peter Horrocks, who last month lamented the damaging effects the cuts are to take. But foreign secretary William Hague remained firm in his commitment to the cuts when responding to the foreign affairs select committee, saying: “In line with all other publicly funded bodies, [the World Service] must play its part in reducing the deficit. We have spent many months working with the BBC World Service to make sure the budget reductions are manageable.”
The BBC is set to take over the responsibility of funding the World Service’s programming in 2014/2015, and BBC director general Mark Thompson has hinted that he will attempt to increase the service’s budget when that happens. However, given the BBC’s current state of cost-cutting, it is unlikely to be able to fund the £253m a year that the foreign affairs committee is calling to be maintained.
Photo taken by Flickr user Ben Sutherland, licensed under Creative Commons.