Written evidence from the National Union
of Journalists Parliamentary Group |
1. This is the submission from the
National Union of Journalists (NUJ) Parliamentary Group to the
Foreign Affairs Committee Inquiry into the BBC World Service.
2. The NUJ Parliamentary Group was established
on a cross party basis, and consists of over 30 MPs and Peers.
We meet regularly, along with the union, to discuss areas of interest
within the media industry and have held regular Ministerial meetings
with the previous Government, as well as meeting with key external
organisations such as the BBC, ITV, Ofcom and the Press Complaints
Commission. As you may well be aware the NUJ represents 38,000
members working in all sectors of the media and has in its membership
staff and freelancers - writers, reporters, editors, sub-editors,
illustrators and photographers.
3. The Group is of the opinion that the BBC World
Service is popular with audiences internationally and has an audience
which numbers some millions across radio, television and online
platforms. We believe that the BBC World Service can play a vital
role in challenging corruption, exposing human rights abuses and
the promotion of democratic values. The Group believes that cuts
to these services will serve to reduce British influence internationally
and will damage objective quality international news.
4. We understand that the proposed cuts amount
to 16 per cent of the BBC World Service's £267 million government
grant over the next five years. We also understand that over
the same period the international aid budget will increase by
37 per cent to over £11 billion. The Group is of the belief
that the BBC World Service has a unique role to play in international
relations and the proposed cuts can be avoided by reallocating
a fraction of the aid budget.
5. The Group understands that five language services
are proposed for total closure (Albanian, Macedonian, Serbian,
English for Caribbean and Portuguese for Africa). Furthermore,
seven language radio programme ends are to ended (Azeri, Mandarin
for Chinese, Russian, Spanish for Cuba, Turkish, Vietnamese and
Ukrainian). We are led to believe that the weekly reach of the
BBC World Service for the Albanian service is 510,000, for the
Macedonian service 160,000, for the Caribbean service 660,000
and the Portuguese service 1,498,000. The total weekly reach
of the five language services proposed for closure therefore is
2,828,000. We also understand that the audience figures for the
radio services in Azeri are 150,000, for Mandarin in Chinese 595,000,
for Russian 1,241,000, for Spanish for Cuba 9,000, for Turkish
450,000, for Vietnamese 100,000 and for Ukrainian radio 910,000.
This amounts to a total of 3,455,000 audience reach for the radio
programmes scheduled for closure.
6. We also understand that the proposal is to
ends shortwave radio transmissions from March 2011 in Hindi, Indonesian,
Kyrgyz, Nepali, Swahili and the Great Lakes Service for Rwanda
and Burundi. We are informed that many listeners in the Great
Lakes region, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nepal
and rural areas of India do not have access to the internet.
By way of example according to figures provided by the National
Union of Journalists the Hindi shortwave service costs £130,000
a year. We also are led to understand if the Mandarin radio service
is to be cut then there will be no facility for impartial daily
news to reach China.
7. The NUJ Parliamentary Group believes that
the BBC needs a skilled team of journalists working around the
world and with specialisations in different countries and regions
in order to maintain quality international broadcasting. We believe
that recent international events in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen illustrate
this point vividly. The Group believes that the BBC World Service
has played an important and objective role in disseminating news
throughout these regions in recent weeks.
8. The BBC World Service has played a vital role
in emergency situations in our opinion. Recent examples of this
include the natural disasters in Pakistan and Haiti. By cutting
services, the Group is of the opinion that the host government
will able to exert their authority often to the detriment of objective
newsgathering and impartiality.
9. We believe that research commissioned in May
2010 indicates that the BBC's news output is more important to
Britain's image overseas than any other institution. We understand
that the Director General of the BBC, Mark Thompson told the Royal
Institute of International Affairs: '"They were then [those
surveyed] shown a list of different British organisations and
initiatives and asked whether they made them think more or less
positively about the country: the British Armed forces, the British
Council, the UK government, UK government foreign aid, and so
on, and the BBC. No fewer than 80 per cent of people asked said
that the BBC made them think more positively about the UK, by
the far the highest of all British institutions mentioned".
10. The Group is particularly concerned about
the affect these proposed cuts will have on the journalists who
work for the BBC World Service. We understand that 650 jobs are
anticipated if these cuts are implemented. We are also concerned
at the speed of these announcements which have left little time
for any alternative strategies to be advocated. We also believe
that many BBC World Service staff came to the UK on work visas
and would be forced to leave the UK if their jobs are lost. The
Group understands that many of these journalists have broadcast
impartial news regarding the often dictatorial regimes in their
home countries. Therefore, it is our opinion that forcibly removing
any such journalists under these circumstances will lead to them
facing threats and persecution simply for carrying out their jobs.
11. In conclusion the Group believes that these
proposed cuts will serve to undermine the UK's national interest
and will drastically impact the depth and quality of objective
newsgathering across the globe. We are of the opinion that the
Government should revisit these proposals and reallocate a portion
of the international aid budget to preserve the BBC World Service
and its current position as an internationally respected broadcaster.
12. The Group also believes that the time for
oral evidence at the Foreign Affairs inquiry into the BBC World
Service should be brought forward from Wednesday 9 March. We also
do not believe that a half day evidence session is adequate to
hear from all those wish to express a view to the Committee including
11 February 2011