The Implications of Cuts to the BBC World Service - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

Further written evidence from the BBC World Service


1.  What savings were made as a result of a) removal of the shortwave transmission in North America and Australia in 2001, b) the removal of shortwave transmission from Europe in 2008?

(a)  £300,000 per annum

(b)  £230,000 per annum

(a)  What are the expected savings from ending radio distribution in Azeri, Mandarin, Russian, Spanish for Cuba, Turkish, Vietnamese, and Ukrainian?

The distribution saving is expected to be £0.8 million per annum, and the associated savings in production costs £4.2 million per annum.

(b)  What will be the expected savings from ceasing all foreign short wave transmissions language (aside from lifeline services) by March 2014?

The World Service expects to save £10 million per annum by March 2014 due to reduced radio distribution.

2.  In each case, what is the rationale behind the closure of short-wave radio distribution in Azeri, Mandarin, Russian, Spanish for Cuba, Turkish, Vietnamese, and Ukrainian?

The World Service will be ending all radio output in each of the languages in the question, not just short wave distribution of those services. The rationales are as follows:


Regulatory context has made it extremely difficult to maintain a cost-effective radio service in Azeri. All international media broadcasts on local FM frequencies in Azerbaijan have been banned by the national broadcasting authorities since January 2009. Since the ban, the BBC's output has only been available on shortwave, a medium that is used by a fraction of the population. Even before the ban, BBC programmes had a declining reach of around 150,000 listeners - a 65% drop since the previous measurement in 2006.

Television and FM are now the dominant media for news consumption in Azerbaijan, with increasing usage of the internet, which 44% of the population can access. With little immediate prospect of a change in the regulatory context, the BBC faces a decreasing prospect of achieving lasting impact in the country on radio.

BBC Azeri will continue to serve its audiences through its online presence, which offers an international agenda with a specialist focus on the Caucasus, including Azerbaijan.

Mandarin radio

Due to the jamming of short wave radio signals by the Chinese authorities over decades, BBC Chinese's radio programming in Mandarin struggles to make a lasting impact and reaches a very small audience given the size of the target population. Given the financial pressures, the service will refocus away from radio to concentrate on its online provision, which - while still subject to control and censorship - has greater future potential for growth. With rapid technological changes happening in China (the biggest broadband and mobile market in the world), the BBC will strengthen its online offer; continue to explore opportunities on new platforms such as mobile phones; and invest in new technologies to facilitate content delivery to its target audience in mainland China and to Chinese communities abroad. BBC World News, the BBC's international English language news and information television channel, is available in China, generally without restriction, and is estimated to have a bigger audience than the Mandarin radio service.


Despite the BBC's best efforts in recent years, it has not been possible to secure a sustainable presence on FM - the dominant platform for radio—in Russia. Since 2003, regulatory and political barriers have prevented the BBC accessing the FM market either through its own distribution or in partnerships.

This has left shortwave and medium wave - both of which continue to decline in use in Russia and the wider region - as the only route for the BBC. This has been reflected in low and declining audiences; since 2001 the BBC Russian radio audience in Russia has declined by 85% from 3.4 million to 0.5 million a week , representing just 0.6% of the adult population.

At the same time, BBC World News has been building its impact in Russia, with 1.6 million viewers, more than three times the radio audience in Russian.

In order to increase its impact, BBC Russian has also developed a number of partnerships with internet providers, raising the BBC's profile on the platform that Russians with an interest in independent news and the outside world increasingly turn to for their news. BBC Russian online audiences have grown by 89% in the past 12 months (121% within Russia itself), thanks in part to successful partnerships with GZT.RU and MSN among others. With 0.4 million weekly users in Russia as of December 2010, BBC Russian already reaches almost as many people online as it does on radio.


Since 2003, the BBC's radio audiences have been declining in Vietnam by 20% annually. Today, the reach has fallen below 1% with 110,000 listeners - around the same number of those who watch BBC World News in English.

In the meantime, Vietnam has developed a booming media market with high internet usage. Consequently, BBC Vietnamese has been pursuing an 'online-first' strategy for several years, and its efforts to address this shift in news consumption have proved successful with attracting some 390,000 weekly users (just under 3% reach in the country) - over three and a half times the size of the radio audience. In future, the BBC will exclusively focus its Vietnamese provision online, with rich multimedia and interactive elements, offering an international agenda with a focus on regional affairs.

Spanish for Cuba

BBC Mundo has a very low impact in Cuba, reaching 9,000 listeners last time the audience there was measured in 2002. Furthermore, given the strength of the US government's transmitters used for broadcasting to Cuba, which has the effect of jamming the signals of other broadcasters, the audibility of our shortwave signal is exceedingly poor, turning potential listeners away.


For most of the last decade, Turkey has enjoyed the benefits of a fully developed media market, with television dominant as the medium for news. In the major population centres, daily television viewing is almost 100%, while daily radio listening has fallen below 30%. At the same time, the internet is now available to 45% of the population.

BBC Turkish has already reoriented its output to reflect these media changes. Its television programming has made a strong impact, with 1.7 million weekly viewers, and its online offer has recently had great success thanks to extended partnerships, which reach 0.5 million weekly unique users. The service intends to further focus on these growing platforms.


Television dominates media and news consumption in Ukraine, with online and mobile devices becoming increasingly important. Mobile penetration - i.e. the ratio of the number of mobile phone numbers in use to the size of the population - is expected to reach 145% in 2011, higher than the equivalent figure for the UK. Since its record audiences in 2003, when it had 2.5 million listeners, BBC Ukrainian has not been able to maintain the same level of impact in an increasingly competitive and fragmented media market.

3.  How many people are currently employed in a) the distribution of shortwave radio transmission in Azeri, Mandarin, Russian, Spanish for Cuba, Turkish, Vietnamese, and Ukrainian and b) all remaining short and medium wave distribution which will close by 2014?

(a)  The World Service's six high power shortwave transmitter sites around the world are operated and managed on behalf of the BBC by Babcock International Group plc. The staff at those sites are employed by or contracted to Babcock, not the BBC.

The World Service understands that the cessation of its radio broadcasts in Azeri will not directly affect any Babcock staff employed in distribution, as they will continue to be employed to support distribution of broadcasts in other languages.

It also understands that the cessation of its radio transmissions in Mandarin and Vietnamese, which are broadcast primarily from the transmitter site in Singapore, will be accommodated without affecting the Babcock staff who operate and manage that site.

The World Service ended its shortwave broadcasts in Turkish in 2009, and understands that this did not directly affect any Babcock staff.

However the World Service understands that the cessation of its radio broadcasts in Russian and Ukrainian will affect up to 60 staff employed by Babcock. 

(b)  The World Service understands that the cessation of its medium wave broadcasts, and further reductions in shortwave broadcasts by 2014, will affect up to 150 Babcock employees at four World Service transmitter sites, and up to 30 staff at the World Service transmitter site in Cyprus, of which for historic reasons 25 are employees of the FCO and 5 are employees of Babcock.

4.  On 26 January 2011, the Foreign Secretary stated that "the World Service initially suggested to the Foreign Office the closure of up to 13 language services". Which services were recommended for closure? What was the suggested rationale behind each recommendation?

The suggestion that the Spending Review settlement would require the closure of 13 language services was made to the FCO on 11 October 2010, after FCO officials had provided an initial briefing on the provisional settlement - but before the settlement was confirmed on 20 October.

The public identification of the 13 services that were considered in this and other scenarios would be likely to undermine the future effectiveness of those services in their markets. The BBC could however provide this list to the Committee on a confidential basis.

This scenario was based on an overall assessment of the most effective mix of full service closures, cuts to other editorial budgets and regenerative investment to sustain the World Service's reach and impact. The BBC's view was that this number of language service closures would have allowed an appropriate ability to maintain the quality and impact of the remaining, higher priority services, while giving us flexibility to invest to ensure the World Service remains competitive at a time of greater change in the media.

We carried out an exercise to identify priorities among the language services, which considered:

  • the strategic importance of the markets served by different languages;
  • the impact of BBC services in those markets; and
  • the cost-effectiveness of services.

Where the BBC recommended closure, it did so only because in each specified case its independent judgement was that this was strategically preferable to further thinning-out of the World Service's finite resources.

5.  How many people are currently employed in the full language services due for closure: Albanian, Macedonian, Portuguese for Africa, Serbian and English for the Caribbean?

Albanian 23
Portuguese for Africa 11
Serbian 21
English for the Caribbean 5

(a)  If the World Service's recommendation of a closure of 13 language services, had been accepted by the Foreign Secretary, what would have been the expected job losses?

Post closures from those 13 services alone would have been 215. No figure is available for the total number of post closures that would have arisen from the wider changes accompanying the 13 closures in this scenario.

6.  You have stated that "audiences will fall by more than 30 million ... as a result of the changes", while the Foreign Secretary has told the House that the closure of the five language service will account for 3.5 million listeners. What is the basis for these figures and how have they been calculated?

The loss of around 30 million weekly audience members refers to the expected loss from all of the full service closures, radio service closures and shortwave and medium wave distribution reductions which are to be implemented in the first full year of the programme of changes ie by March 2012. That is to say, the World Service's global audience estimate was recalculated to exclude audiences due to be lost as a result of these changes.

The five full service closures account for an audience loss of 3.4 million. The services which are closing radio output account for a further 3.3 million. The cessation of short wave and medium wave is expected to lose the World Service around 25 million listeners, depending on overlap with other radio delivery platforms.

7.  What are the most recent listening figures for each of the five language services which will be closed fully; Albanian, Macedonian, Portuguese for Africa, Serbian and English for the Caribbean?

Portuguese for Africa1,498,000
English for the Caribbean660,000

8.  What are the most recent listening figures for radio distribution in Azeri, Mandarin, Russian, Spanish for Cuba, Turkish, Vietnamese, and Ukrainian?

Spanish for Cuba9,000

9.  Of the 650 announced job losses, 480 will occur in 2011-12. When will the remaining 170 jobs be lost?

Most of the approximately 170 remaining post closures are expected to occur during 2012-13 and 2013-14, however some may also occur in 2011-12 as exact timings depend on decisions within individual departments.

10.  Will the 650 announced job losses be concentrated purely on the World Service, rather than BBC Global News? What will be the total expected job losses across BBC Global News (including the already announced cuts to BBC Monitoring)?

The approximately 650 post closures relate only to the changes announced by the World Service. Additionally, BBC Monitoring are consulting on proposals to close 72 posts.

11.  Please provide a detailed breakdown of where the announced 480 losses in 2011-12, and the remaining 170 losses by 2014-15 will occur.

A detailed breakdown of the 480 proposed post closures in 2011-12 is provided below.

Albanian 23
Portuguese for Africa11
Sub-total due to closure of five services: 70
African (English)5
other Asia-Pacific languages3
Sub-total for remaining language services: 252
BBC Audio & Music12
BBC Newsgathering56.5
World Service announcers3
Sub-total for World Service English:71.5
WS Finance & Business Affairs9
Digital Technology, New Media4
Strategy & Business Development13
Studio and TV Operations54
Sub-total for support departments:86

Figures refer to the gross number of posts on a full-time-equivalent basis, and therefore do not take into account new posts which the World Service plans to open as part of the programme of changes. The net number of post closures during 2011-12 is expected to be 433.

Details are not available of which posts will be proposed for closure as part of the remaining 170 or so closures expected between 2011-12 and 2013-14. However, these closures are also expected to fall across the full spectrum of World Service activity, ie language services, World Service English and support departments, and will be announced within departments when they occur.

12.  Have you had any discussions with bodies other than the Foreign Office and the BBC regarding funding of the World Service? Specifically, have there been indications that the Department for International Development will be providing funding to maintain World Service programming and coverage?

The World Service held a number of meetings with DFID officials and ministers over the period when the Government was carrying out the Spending Review, to help assess to what extent World Service activity contributed to development goals.

As part of these discussions, the World Service provided DFID with a note summarising the World Service's analysis at that time of existing and potential World Service activity that could constitute Official Development Assistance (ODA). This note is appended to this submission.

The World Service shared its analysis with the Treasury in its initial submission to the Spending Review, making the case that activities constituting ODA should be protected from cuts.

In the Spending Review settlement, the FCO asked World Service to make a £25m minimum annual commitment to Official Development Assistance. However no additional funding has been provided for this by the FCO or DFID.

If however the Government wished to pursue this possibility, any additional funding could be targeted to fully qualify towards the Government's ODA commitment, and would enable the World Service primarily to invest in new services which also meet development purposes and to adjust some of the most immediately impactful reductions. This would be similar to the approach taken in the current financial year, in which £40m of DFID's budget was transferred to the FCO to support the British Council.[2]

If, for example, the Government chose to fully fund the World Service's £25m ODA commitment, the World Service would be able to:

  • invest in programming in Hindi for television, online and mobile services in India, and retain a reduced Hindi shortwave radio service to maintain the BBC's presence (especially in the rural north of the country) until new services are established;
  • create BBC Urdu television content which would help counter the increasingly politicised news disseminated by local providers and contribute to the stabilisation of Pakistan and Afghanistan;
  • build partnerships with broadcasters in Anglophone Africa to build capacity in the local media and support provision of high quality news and current affairs in these rapidly developing countries;
  • retain the current shortwave coverage of World Service English in order to continue to serve those listeners in Africa and south Asia with no alternative source of impartial news; and
  • develop new TV programming and online content in Arabic, to facilitate debate within the community of young, innovative and diverse thinkers who have been shaping events behind the digital curtain of social media networks across the Arab world, and which has burst into prominence in recent weeks in Tunisia and Egypt; and maintain shortwave and mediumwave radio broadcasts for those audiences who do not yet have access to digital media.

(a)  Can the Committee be provided with copies of any correspondence between the BBC World Service and DfID over future funding arrangements for the World Service?

A note the World Service provided to DfID during the Spending Review, which summarises the World Service's analysis at that time of the existing and potential World Service activity that could constitute Official Development Assistance, is appended to this submission.

16 February 2011



Below is a note in which the BBC set out its initial thinking about existing and potential World Service activities which support the UK's development goals. It was submitted to DFID in July 2010. The analysis it expresses was also shared with the FCO and HM Treasury.


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 increasingly recognised as prerequisites for economic development and welfare.[3]

The World Service helps enable people in the least developed and most fragile countries to learn, share knowledge and participate in public life, by providing widespread access to trusted information and public debate. It has an opportunity to strengthen and expand this role as part of an integrated Government strategy to promote development and secure the UK's international objectives. More specifically, the World Service can contribute to:

  • Strengthening governance and accountability. The World Service provides close scrutiny of decision-making elites and ensures news is available that is free of political bias or influence, at times with massive impact. For example it was a BBC Hausa interview with the ill Nigerian President that prompted a constitutional upheaval that resulted in Goodluck Jonathan taking office.
  • Supporting poor and marginalised populations, by ensuring access to authoritative news and information where it is absent. For example, the BBC is de facto national broadcaster in Somalia, Afghanistan, Burma and a number of countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Supporting fragile states. The BBC offers an impartial alternative to extremist ideology and incitement, especially in fractured societies (eg Rwanda), and ensures their citizens have access to international values and perspectives.
  • Humanitarian response. Rapid flow of information to people affected by disasters and crises is an essential, but under-recognised part of development activity. The World Service has delivered crisis services after the Haiti earthquake, Cyclone Nargis (providing one of the few sources of lifeline information for Burma), in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Darfur.
  • Covering issues relevant to the Millennium Development Goals. The issues on which progress towards the MDGs depends are increasingly at the forefront of the BBC's independent editorial agenda, especially climate change. The World Service and World Service Trust work together on the BBC World Debates, involving and educating people across the developing and developed worlds on key development issues.
  • Research and evaluating policy impact. The BBC has a large network of researchers and research projects around the world providing a foundation for understanding the information needs of people living in poverty. The potential to use this research capability and insight to support development actors is currently under-exploited.

Countries which appear on the DAC list and where the World Service has a significant presence include: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burma, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Egypt, Ghana, Haiti, India, Iraq, Iran, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Malawi, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestinian Territories, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Zambia.

This note provides initial ideas about the ways in which the BBC already does or could do more to support the UK's development goals in these territories. Although a number of World Service activities deliver development benefits, no assessment has been made of the extent to which World Service activities meet DAC criteria.

Existing activities

Many of the World Service's vernacular language services are targeted at the countries identified above. Often, their programming is made and broadcast from the UK, primarily because local conditions do not allow our services to operate safely and securely. But the programmes are broadcast to and for the benefit of a number of high priority countries for development. Where possible, we are increasingly moving services to their target countries; and even services based in the UK spend significant sums on newsgathering and transmission in the countries in question.

We estimate existing expenditure associated with activities in, or services for, the countries listed above as follows:
ItemSpend (£)
In-country newsgathering and content production (includes employing, training, equipping local journalists) 9.3m
In-country transmission and operations 5.2m
Training and technical assistance for partner broadcasters 0.5m
Ex-country newsgathering and content production for services for ODA countries 52.3m
Total~ £67m per annum

New initiatives for sub Saharan Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan

BBC World Service is preparing proposals for new investments to enhance the BBC's presence in priority countries and develop sustainable local journalism. At present, these ideas lack funding.

The budgets of these services would include significant spend on activities with development benefit:

  • A television and multimedia news service for Anglophone Africa: up to £5 million.
  • Urdu TV news: around £12 million budget.
  • Afghan TV news: up to £3 million.
  • Expanded radio distribution on FM networks in Africa and south Asia: ~ £2 million.
  • Total: ~ £22 million per annum.

The development dimension of these activities would primarily be building capacity in local media organisations, and embedding journalistic standards of impartiality, accuracy, scrutiny and accountability. Specific initiatives might include:

  • Coproduction of news and other content.
  • Embedding local BBC staff in broadcast partners.
  • In-house/in-post training of local journalists or partners.
  • Technical/production assistance for partners.
  • Establishment of BBC training facilities/academies for promotion of journalistic excellence.
  • Promoting and enabling citizen journalism.
  • Production and broadcast of programming relevant to development aims.
  • Development of in-country broadcasting infrastructure, especially transmission facilities.

Revised July 2010

2   House of Commons International Development Committee, Department for International Development Annual Report & Resource Accounts 2009-10. Back

3   See for example Roumeen Islam (ed.), Information and Public Choice, World Bank 2008, and The Right to Tell, WBI Development Studies 2002; and Pippa Norris (ed.), Public Sentinel: News Media and Governance Reform, IBRD 2010. Back

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