Written evidence from the National Union
of Journalists (NUJ)|
1. The BBC World Service is a story of continuing
success. Ten years ago it had 153 million regular radio listeners.
Today, the figure is 180 millionrepresenting one in every
25 adults in the world.
2. The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) believes
the cuts the BBC is proposing would damage not only the World
Service but also Britain's national interest.
3. This is because the BBC World Service depends
on two thingsproperly resourced journalism, and safe and
secure transmission networks to broadcast its journalists' work.
4. The cuts will mean:
(a) Thirty-million short-wave listeners will
no longer be able to hear the BBC World Service.
(b) As many as another 20 million could lose
their signal if other changes being considered for English and
12 remaining shortwave services go ahead.
5. The impact of the cuts will severely damage
the quality of BBC World Service journalism - especially in the
core area of World Service News, in the Language Services and
in BBC Monitoring.
ON BBC WORLD
6. The World Service core news operation depends
on about 120 journalists who work around the clock, 24 hours a
day. A similar number produce high-quality current affairs programmes
including Newshour and the World Today. The Europe Today programme,
whose expertise is used throughout the BBC, is to disappear in
the cuts. The Politics UK programme is also going.
7. The core news operation:
(a) writes the news stories needed for the language
services and the English network;
(b) provides and scripts sound and video material
for use by language services;
(c) co-ordinates and liaises with foreign correspondents
on behalf of programme makers; and
(d) provides expertise in the form of Bush House-based
specialist regional editors (who also generate news stories and
voiced reports) and correspondents who provide global perspectives
on diplomacy, security, politics and other issues.
8. Key correspondents and regional experts are
among 50 posts essential to the World Service News operation scheduled
to be cut over the next year. These losses, along with proposed
radical changes in working practices, will mean a narrowing of
the range of stories provided for English and Language Service
outputs. They will add to the workloads at the BBC's domestic
radio and television networks and English-language World TV which
currently rely heavily on our writing and expertise.
9. The BBC hopes to make further savings by allowing
language service journalists to bypass the normal editorial controls
and publish their stories directly into the BBC's Electronic News
and Production System, ENPS.
10. Bush House based correspondents and regional
editors play a vital role in finding news, checking facts, interpreting
and reporting. They provide essential support to the journalism
of language services and help enforce consistent editorial standards
across the World Service. We are particularly concerned that some
Regional Editor roles will be reduced to Monday-to-Friday office
hours while English and Language Service programming continues
seven days a weekespecially in areas in which the western
concept of a "weekend" does not exist.
11. During one of the busiest times for output
- overnight in Europe, morning in Asia - the task of liaising
with foreign correspondents will be left to a single, junior journalist
based at Television Centre. Other money-saving proposals include
splitting the team directly responsible for producing and writing
stories for news bulletins between Bush House and Television Centre.
12. We believe that if these measures go ahead
the resultant lack of oversight will lead to broadcast errors
and a loss in quality.
13. We believe that plans to merge the rump of
the World Service News department with its domestic counterparts
are flawed. World Service journalism is distinct.
14. One of our senior journalists wrote the following
in a briefing paper about the cuts:
"It is a fact that BBC News focuses primarily
on domestic events. That is what the licence payer expects. But
when it comes to foreign news, the journalism coming out of Television
Centre is often unsuitable for the World Service audience. What
passes as a foreign story at Television Centrestranded
British tourists, a coach crash, and some celebrity adopting a
new African babymight not be news at all at the World Service.
By the same token, the wars, floods and famines routinely covered
by the World Service hardly ever figure in the running order of
the BBC's News At Ten. Think how little foreign news, on average,
pushes its way to the top of the BBC's domestic news outlets.
Then ask yourself how the World Service, which is dependent entirely
on foreign news to fill its 24-hours-a-day schedule, could possibly
survive on such a meagre supply. That is the very real prospect
once World Service journalists (those fortunate enough to survive
the jobs abattoir) have been absorbed into BBC News."
15. As a result of the latest cuts and previous
changes, core activities of many surviving language services will
be based abroad - in Senegal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Russia or
Ukraine. We are concerned the BBC has not taken into account the
pressures that can easily be exerted on journalists in certain
countries. These have included the targeting of BBC language service
journalists by foreign politicians and security services.
16. Although some audiences are migrating to
local FM relays and internet services, only short-wave radio delivery
guarantees our services reach our audience independently of local
censorship. Local FM relays and internet services can be switched
off at any time by repressive regimes if they don't like what
the BBC is putting out. The BBC is constantly removed from FM
for political reasons in places such as Sri Lanka and parts of
Africa. Many partner stations on FM across the Middle East do
not carry BBC News bulletins. BBC World Television is frequently
blanked out in China. Short-wave radio guarantees editorial independence.
This is the argument that BBC management has failed to grasp.
17. The only justification for removing short-wave
would be if either:
(a) short-wave audiences had completely vanished;
(b) transmission costs on short-wave were prohibitively
18. Short-wave audiences are, however, still
vast - up to 40% of our listeners still use it. When local FM
relays and mobiles are censored (as in Egypt), and the internet
closed down, the short-wave audience share isof course100%.
19. For non-English services, the BBC's mobile
and internet audiences are just 6% of the size of the current
20. Short-wave is often still the cheapest way
of reaching a mass audience. We understand that the BBC World
Service currently spends only around £7 million a year on
short-wave distribution, 3% of the total World Service budget.
FM networks are expensive.
21. The English service has a weekly audience
of about 39 million, of whom 15 million listen on short-wave,
9.3 million on BBC FM relays and 16.2 million on independent FM
partner stations. It's hoped that distribution of streamed audio
and podcasts of content via mobile phones will grow as devices
become cleverer. But this option is not universally affordable.
The BBC World Service is for rich and poorthe aspiring
decision-makers as well as the established elites.
22. Even in the rich world, most people still
find switching a radio on is a far more convenient way of hearing
audio than using a mobile device or a computer. On the net, the
BBC is just one of many possible sources. On short-wave, the World
Service is the number one choice.
23. Digital short-wave which guarantees FM-like
quality is also available. Properly resourced and marketed, this
has the potential to reduce distribution costs massively. All
India Radio - one of the world's largest broadcasters - has recently
24. The NUJ is aware of other submissions which
deal with some of the following issues in greater detail. These
are areas which need better resources. Any further cuts to World
Service core journalism would utterly destroy it. The World Service
language services need additional funding to maintain their effectiveness.
25. Many national broadcasters in Africa still
use short-wave to reach their audiences so it makes little sense
to phase out BBC short-wave transmissions. We dispute assertions
that the FM network, mobile phones or the internet are a viable
alternative in the short or medium term. We also think that the
following factors have been ignored by the BBC:
(a) Even where the BBC does broadcast on FM (in
towns and more developed areas) it may be subject to restrictions.
For example direct BBC relays are often taken off the air - most
recently in Abidjan in Ivory Coast.
(b) Partner stations are likely to come under
more pressure to remove news programmes at times of political
tension. Countries such as Sudan and Ethiopia already tightly
control the media, while Nigeria banned foreign news broadcasts
on FM in 2004.
(c) Rural dwellers and poorer people in most
African countries will be completely cut off from BBC broadcasts
if they are only on FM and the internet.
(d) Satellite broadcasting over parts of Africa
carries programming for Europe.
26. The former BBC Delhi correspondent, Mark
Tully, says, "I fear the decision to stop short-wave and
medium-wave transmissions of the Hindi service might reflect the
mistaken, but widely-held, view that it's only the new middle
class in India who matter, those who can listen to radio broadcasts
on computers and mobile phones." We agree. We also believe
the following factors have been ignored by the BBC:
(a) The BBC is abandoning ten million Hindi listeners
in India. It will only provide a news service to 200,000 people
who can afford computers.
(b) Radio is still the way many Indians receive
their news - especially in poor rural areas.
(c) All India Radio has a monopoly of radio news
and current affairs.
27. The BBC provides news for an FM radio network
in Pakistan, but this operates under a broadcasting code which
would not be acceptable here. Our colleagues have to be extremely
careful about how they report certain topics including any relating
to the army. Security is a real issue for language service staff
in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
28. We dispute the BBC estimate for the size
of the short-wave radio audience in China. Anecdotal evidence
suggests that this audience is still in the millionsalthough
it is of course impossible for outsiders to measure. Chinese officials
themselves are reported to have estimated that a minimum of three-
to four-million people listen weekly - a figure that they say
excludes many rural areas. The BBC decision makes no sense when
the following factors are taken into account:
(a) China has a diverse but tightly-controlled
media where dissent from the party line is not tolerated and can
be severely punished.
(b) More than 30 Chinese journalists are thought
currently to be in prison for breaching official reporting guidelines.
(c) China has set up the Great Firewall to keep
its people isolated from world events and to prevent them freely
accessing news and information on the internet. The BBC's Chinese-language
news website is blocked by the Great Firewall.
(d) Recently hackers based in China broke into
the servers of Google, briefly hijacking huge portions of it.
Latest reports suggest that even the servers of the Foreign and
Commonwealth Office have been hacked into.
(e) China continues to jam BBC broadcasts. Jamming
is expensive. If the audience was really that small, the authorities
wouldn't bother to jam the BBC.
29. BBC radio broadcasts still mean a great deal
to the people of China. This is what one Chinese journalist has
"The BBC Mandarin broadcast service has
a long and highly respected history in China. It's not overstating
to say that millions of people have grown up with it, and people
still remember the iconic banner during the 1989 Tiananmen Square
protests, saying "Thank you, BBC". Throughout its existence,
people listened with great eagerness and hunger in understanding
what was going on in the world, and also in seeking an alternative
view different from their own government.
the Chinese political system is still the same, and alternative
political views are hard to find. Just one example: during the
award-giving ceremony for last year's Nobel Peace prize, and because
the winner was a Chinese dissident, the Chinese media was ordered
not to report it, and the foreign media like satellite television
have been blocked....and yet if people have a short-wave radio,
they can still hear the most moving and inspiring ceremony and
speeches via BBC Mandarin broadcast....
There are other Mandarin broadcasting
services from Germany, France, and USA, and I haven't heard they're
planning to sever their services. And what's more, the BBC
is the most trusted and respected, and among no equals."
30. The BBC's Chinese language service website
is full of postings from people who have risked their own security
to appeal for the radio service to continue.
31. If the cuts go ahead, the BBC Caribbean Service
in English will cease broadcasting to the region at the end of
March (along with a service in Spanish for Cuba). The basis for
this decision seems to be that the region is not important for
foreign policy, and that the Caribbean service will not be missed
as the region has a complex web of print and broadcast media.
This fails to recognise that there is virtually no pan-Caribbean
radio programming, as offered by the BBC Caribbean service, let
alone the funding or the commercial will to provide it.
(a) With the dismantling of the BBC Caribbean
Service and its specialist team of independent Caribbean staff,
a regional broadcast perspective will disappear for ever.
(b) It is the sole vehicle offering the region
the chance to hear on a daily basis about events from a broader
perspective and sometimes hold politicians to account.
(c) Its withdrawal would represent a decline
in the UK's role, while countries such as China, Brazil and India
are trying to develop a strategic relationship with the region.
32. Russian is spoken not only in Russia itself
but in many of the countries of the former Soviet Union, including
Ukraine and the states of Central Asia.
33. BBC short-wave and AM transmissions in Russia
will close if these proposals go ahead. Virtually all remaining
domestic radio and television broadcasts in Russia are now fervently
pro-government. The BBC argues that the internet is the best way
to deliver news to Russia. However the following points must be
taken into account:
(a) Russian social networks have been bought
out by oligarchs with links to the government.
(b) Software has been installed in the servers
of all ISPs that allow the authorities to monitor everyone's web
browsing and emails.
(c) Some independent sites and those with close
ties to the opposition have been rendered inaccessible through
cyber-attacks or have been the object of police harassment.
(d) Estonia was recently subjected to a massive
cyber-attack which showed the sophistication of Russia's ability
to control the web.
34. It is clear that mechanisms that could result
in greater control and censorship of the internet are being put
in place in Russia.
35. The media is tightly controlled in Central
Asian countries - where Russian is widely spokenespecially
in Uzbekistan. The government of President Karimov continues to
block domestic access to critical international websites, and
jams foreign broadcasters including the BBC.
36. We believe the decision to cut radio broadcasts
in Russian and some central Asian languages needs to be reviewed.
37. Ukraine still has one of the largest short-wave
audiences in Europe. Nearly a million people will lose their signal
in a few weeks' time. Abandoning so many people makes no sense.
ON BBC MONITORING
38. BBC Monitoring provides open-source information
to the British and other governments, news gatherers including
the BBC, academics and commercial customers, reporting on events
in the words of the (often state-controlled) media of the countries
where they happen. The NUJ believes the latest cuts to its budget
threaten irreversible damage and are a saving too far.
39. BBC Monitoring has been absorbing rising
costs through efficiency savings at an average rate of 7% each
year since 2001, while being expected to maintain the same level
of service. Last autumn it was suddenly ordered to strip a further
£1 million from its budget. In the next two years stakeholder
income will shrink by 18%, while costs are forecast to rise by
40. At a time when the UK is reducing its physical
presence abroad, the information provided by BBC Monitoring often
serves to confirm or cast doubt on intelligence from other sourceseven
in the age of the Internet. The proposed cuts, if implemented,
will mean that staff who monitor entire regions - including Latin
America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific will no longer be based in
41. BBC Monitoring's primary customer is the
British government. We believe that the editorial staff best able
to identify and work to meet the British national interest, whatever
their background, are more likely to be domiciled in the UK. We
also query whether it is appropriate to fund BBC Monitoring from
the licence fee from 2013 when the BBC Charter has little to say
about Monitoring's activities.
42. We believe the changes agreed between the
BBC and the government will cost this country dearly. The plan
is being presented as a response to the deficit. But it also represents
a massive pruning of one of the BBC's core activities - radio.
These plans could easily have been drawn up in Beijing as a way
of reducing the global effectiveness of the BBC and Britain.
43. FM broadcasting while providing good sound
quality is subject to political interference.
44. Short-wave broadcasts that cannot be intercepted
and which can be listened to in safety will be abandoned in favour
of a policy that allows local censors across the world to decide
what the BBC can broadcast or publish.
45. To prevent this happening we recommend:
(a) that the BBC draw up a new international
broadcasting strategy which has at its heart a commitment
to restore and aggressively market direct, secure transmissions
to our listeners, including a commitment to maintain short-wave
broadcasting and improve the audibility of the signal. A key condition
of any FM partnership should be the carrying of uncensored BBC
(b) the number of broadcast streams available
to World Service listeners in English is reduced;
(c) that some of the money allocated by the BBC
Director-General Mark Thompson to help with the cost of the proposed
reorganisation of the World Service be used instead to ring-fence
basic core news services for 2010-11 and offset the cuts to the
(d) that the £7.7m returned to the FCO budget
early last year be given back to the World Service and used to
sustain key services;
(e) that the BBC examine the possibility of releasing
additional funds by lengthening the repayment period of the bonds
used to finance capital projects - including W1, Salford and Pacific
(f) the World Service is acknowledged to be one
of the best things about the BBC and Britain. The cuts proposed
include 16% of its £267 million government grant over the
next five years, during which time the international aid budget
will increase by 37% to over £11 billion. The BBC World Service
has a unique role in international relations and services could
be saved by providing a fraction of the aid budget set against
very clear development goals. By virtue of its core activity of
providing reliable news and information to many of the world's
poorest countries, the BBC World Service plays a substantial role
in supporting development goals. Free and independent media are
essential to effective governance; they promote accountability
and can help bolster fragile states. These are recognised prerequisites
for economic development and welfare. FCO believes £25 million
of World Service expenditure counts as Overseas Development Assistance,
but FCO or DFID have not provided funding for that. If limited
DFID funding were provided for dedicated services that met development
purposes, World Service could avoid damaging cuts and invest in
new services that could contribute to the stabilisation of Pakistan
and Afghanistan, help prevent radicalisation in sub-Saharan Africa
and maintain the BBC's presence in rural India. The DFID budget
is increasing over the period by an average of £3.5 billion
per annum. £50 million for WS would be less than 1.5% of
the average annual increase in development spending and could
be targeted to fully qualify towards the development target;
(g) this might be the case for the Caribbean
Service, Portuguese for Africa, and also the costs of short wave
Swahili and to the Great Lakes;
(h) that work on fully implementing the cuts
be stopped for a period of six months while alternative plans
are considered, and that Parliament allocate additional funding
to allow this to happen; and
(i) that the Committee bring forward its hearings.
Time is an issue because decisions will be taken within the next
few weeks which will be hard to reverse.
46. We have already endured many years of savings.
The proposed 650 proposed job cuts will result in a noticeable
drop in quality in the English and Language services while cutting
off millions of loyal radio listeners. Intervention is necessary
to secure the free flow of accurate information to the places
where it is urgently needed, and to preserve Britain's standing
and influence in the world. This is a common cause for all
11 February 2011