Implications of BBC World Service Cuts - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

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 this Group.

11 February 2011

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Prepared 13 April 2011