Written evidence from Ailsa Auchnie, Senior
Broadcast Journalist, BBC World Service Newsroom |
I am writing to you in your capacity as Chairman
of the Foreign Affairs Committee regarding the swingeing cuts
to the BBC World Service following the reductions in funding by
the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
I have worked for the World Service for 24 years,
but I am not writing because I might be one of the 650 people
who will lose their jobs. I want to highlight the impact these
cuts will have on the people we serve around the world. Not only
will five language services go altogethersome of them in
what's still a very volatile part of Europebut seven more
will be allowed to wither by existing only on news websitesincluding
Russian and Mandarin Chinese. We will lose an estimated 30 million
listeners in one fell swoop.
This will deprive millions of an essential source
of unbiased, accurate information. The World Service has proved
vital in crises. The Economist recalled recently that Mikhail
Gorbachev used the BBC as his most reliable source of news when
resisting the August 1991 coup. Aung San Suu Kyi says she listened
to the BBC World Service every day during her detention by the
Burmese military, and continues to listen to it daily since her
The World Service has been a lifeline for people
in times of trouble. The loss of shortwave will deprive the poor
in Africa and India of information that they cannot get anywhere
else, since they have no access to the internet. The end to BBC
Hindi radio means the loss of a regular weekly audience of more
than 10 million, with a saving of less than half a million pounds.
At a time when Britain is seeking closer engagement with India,
the decision to cut off so many listeners is surely a mistake.
The Egyptian government's shutdown of the internet
and mobile phone networks during the present uprising shows the
strategic error of the BBC World Service's planned retreat from
The World Service, while always adhering to strict
standards of impartiality, is one of Britain's best ambassadors.
It brings our nation an enormous amount of goodwill for a very
small financial outlay. This is appreciated by the British public.
In a Chatham House survey, the BBC was ranked equal to the British
Armed forces as "serving Britain's interests around the world".
This "soft power", which has been carefully nurtured
over so many years, is now seriously under threat.
I understand that the Foreign Affairs Committee is
holding an inquiry into the World Service cuts. I urge you to
use your influence to help put a stop to them. It is not too late;
the damage has not yet been done. Please take my observations
into account in your inquiry.
The money needed for the World Service is not a huge
sum. It can surely be found within the Foreign Office or other
budgets that have not been cut disproportionately. Please help
us stop the government doing irreversible harm to the World Service,
to people's right to impartial news, and to Britain's standing
and influence in the world.
9 February 2011