Implications of the BBC World Service Cuts

Written evidence from Mike Fox, BBC World Service English newsroom

· The World Service is valued for promoting the UK to the world.

· This role is threatened by these proposals:

· Especially the withdrawal from Balkan languages;

· And the loss of radio broadcasts in many other languages.

· Wrong to think should withdraw from information-rich developing countries.

· Reduce cuts as part of strategic reassessment of World Service’s importance.

Biography: I am a senior broadcast journalist working in the BBC World Service English newsroom. I’ve been a member of staff since 1995, and have been an output editor on Newshour and The World Today, as well as working as a correspondent in North America reporting on attacks there in 2001. I have also twice worked in our audience research department.

Statement

The value of the BBC World Service in promoting Britain abroad is widely accepted. MPs from all parties and indeed the current Foreign Secretary have often praised the organisation – many have described it as the cheapest and most effective ambassadorial service, one that is unique to this country. The walls of Bush House used to be decorated with pictures of politicians, eminent business leaders and celebrities describing how the service provides them with vital news, and a lifeline where information is often hard to come by.

It seems those behind these proposals have forgotten that heritage and the role which the World Service plays for the UK. Ever since I’ve worked here the World Service has been making efficiency savings year on year, not infrequently at 2% or 3% each year. In the recent past these have led to significant losses, not least the Thai service, just months before the country’s military coup. There is no surplus left to cut, which is why these savings will have such a huge impact on what we do.

In effect we are continuing to withdraw from providing a broad-based language service – it seems especially misguided to be pulling out of the Balkans altogether, just when other news organisations such as al-Jazeera are opening language services there.

The withdrawal from radio broadcasts in many other languages is also a strategic error – we may have small audiences in some and suffer jamming in others, but when there’s a crisis and information is much scarcer, then our radio broadcasts would provide a vital service at a vital time – as seen in countries like Burma and Afghanistan where information is scarce, and indeed during the current Egypt crisis where broadcasting remains vital as the internet service is cut by the government there. And in India we still have a large rural audience which closely follows world and regional developments, where the loss of the Hindi service will be keenly felt.

Pound for pound, the World Service is one of the most effective arms of government spending. The total budget is tiny compared to many other departments. It and the BBC are facing swingeing cuts which seem to have been drawn up all too hastily.

I call on the committee and the government to reduce these cuts as part of a proper re-evaluation of the importance of the World Service.

11 February 2011