FCO Performance and Finances

Letter from Jeremy Dear, General Secretary, National Union of Journalists (NUJ)

 I am writing to you to raise the National Union of Journalist’s (NUJ) concerns regarding the proposed changes to the BBC World Service prior to the Foreign Affairs Committee session on Wednesday 3 November 2010.


The budget for the World Service is currently provided by the Foreign Office and is not funded from the licence fee. Changes set out in the Comprehensive Spending Review mean that in future the BBC will pay for the World Service which has £272m annual running costs.


The NUJ is seriously concerned that the cuts are likely to lead to service closures and significant redundancies.


The BBC World Service employs more than 2,000 people and a significant proportion are based outside of the UK and spread across 45 countries. The diversity of staff and presence in so many locations around the world helps make the BBC World Service the leading voice in international broadcasting.


At its best the World Service can challenge corruption, expose human rights abuses and promote democratic values. By cutting the service the Government will cut British influence in the rest of the world and also damage objective quality international news.


Reasons to oppose the cuts:


· The BBC needs a spread of journalists working around the world and specialising in different countries and regions to be able to maintain quality international broadcasting. Stable and un-strategic countries can often quickly become strategic and unstable, especially in the current economic climate. The BBC needs to maintain current levels of services so it can be flexible in responding to the news agenda including climate disasters and wars. After the last round of cuts there was a coup in Thailand immediately after the BBC Thai service was cut and Greece has been in crisis since the country service was closed.

· World Service radio provides a lifeline to people in times of crisis. Recent examples include the disasters in Pakistan and Haiti.

· By cutting and/or offshoring services, the BBC will lose the ability to control broadcasting in times of emergencies. The host government will have the ability to shut down the World Service at times when it is most needed - whether by switching off the power, putting journalists in jail or just locking the doors.

· Moving the service into the country can sometimes hit the audience figures negatively. For instance, the Hindi Service audience was reduced by almost 50% after most of their jobs were relocated to Delhi and consequently money moves from being spent on programmes to funding the travel expenses of managers.

· Journalists in the BBC World Service provide expertise and assistance to BBC UK: the language skills and existing contacts of journalists are brought to use when big stories break.

· Britain gets talent from the World Service: Matt Frei and Rageh Omar came from the World Service. The talents of journalists around the globe feed into the BBC and this directly benefits the UK.

· World Service staff come to the UK on work visas and would have to leave if they lose their jobs. Many journalists have come to the UK to broadcast impartial news about shocking regimes and could now find themselves being sent back if the service closes. Journalists in these circumstances may face threats and persecution simply for doing their job at the BBC.

· In May 2010 research highlighted by Mark Thompson suggests that the BBC’s news output is more important to Britain’s image overseas than the Royal Family or the Armed Forces: the research sought the views of 500 'opinion formers and consumers' who watched and listened to BBC news content - including the World Service - in Egypt, Pakistan, Turkey and Kenya. Mark Thompson told the Royal Institute of International Affairs: 'They were 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 the British institutions mentioned.'

The BBC World Service provides essential public services when other news is supressed:

· The World Service for Azerbaijan exists in the context of an authoritarian regime and the Azerbaijan courts have jailed journalists and forced people leave the country. Bloggers have been jailed and the BBC Azeri Service was cut off FM radio waves last year and its web site is blocked in governmental agencies. But it is possible to check the BBC website outside the government buildings and people can listen to BBC radio programmes on shortwave. The BBC Azeri Service is the only impartial and objective source of news in the country and closing the Azeri Service would benefit the current political regime.

· The Azeri Service is important for 25 million Azeris people who live in Iran and are deprived of their basic right to learn in their native languages.

· The NUJ supports the Early Day Motion (EDM 788) on the BBC World Service and Human Rights which highlights the BBC World Service as a world-class broadcasting network and a lifeline for political prisoners and other suppressed persons. Any move to cut this service, for example in Burma, will remove vital access to current and impartial information from those such as Aung San Suu Kyi who have no alternative source of unbiased news. Cancelling the service would constitute a failure of the Government to promote or support human rights on the international stage.

Potential cuts to services:


· We are concerned that language services may close entirely or be drastically cut.

· We expect service cuts as well as job cuts in London and potential off-shoring of radio production work. 

· The Russian service based in London may be reduced or closed leaving only the service based in Russia. We expect the Russian service radio output to be closed by the end of the year.

· There may be restructuring in the Central Asian and Bengali services including cutting jobs in London and creating posts in Bangladesh.

· The Arabic service may be cut, the service currently exists online, on the radio and on TV. 

· The Spanish American service has radio programmes (about 15 minutes per day) that may be cut even though the service was essential during the Haiti earthquake crisis.

· We also expect there may be job cuts in BBC World Service newsroom in London.


We are waiting for more detailed plans regarding proposed changes the World Service.  The NUJ is committed to defending vital public services and will continue to campaign to protect the future of the BBC: we hope you will support us.


29 October 2010