BBC World Service Faces Deep Cuts

Chinese-language radio broadcasts by the BBC’s World Service are to be among the casualties of heavy budget cuts. The service is expected to lose 650 jobs and some 30 million of its 180 million listeners around the world, allowing Voice Of America to displace it for the first time as the world’s leading international news provider. From The Guardian:

In the Commons today William Hague, the foreign secretary, was forced to defend the government’s decision to cut the World Service’s budget after being condemned by Labour MPs. He blamed the BBC pension deficit and Foreign Office spending cuts required by the “vast public deficit inherited from the previous government”.

The BBC is being forced to implement the cuts after the World Service’s funding from the Foreign Office was reduced by 16% in the government’s comprehensive spending review in October.

From 2014 the World Service is to be paid for from the licence fee, rather than by direct Foreign Office grant, and the BBC has said it intends to reverse some of the cuts from that point ….

World Service radio broadcasts to western Europe – including south-east England – Russia and the countries of the former Soviet Union, Turkey, India and China will be among the casualties as the BBC axes 650 jobs and looks to save £46m a year, 20% of the World Service’s £253m annual budget.

From the Financial Times:

The decision by the BBC to scrap its Russian short-wave radio service and concentrate on online media – managerial changes that do not require approval from the foreign secretary – provoked criticism. The Chinese service will also be scaled back, with all radio programming in Mandarin Chinese being closed, although Cantonese radio programming will continue.

One Foreign Office figure insisted the damage to the Russian service would be limited and the changes merely reflected the 80 per cent fall in radio listeners over the past decade and the rapid increase in demand for online output.

However, the decision dramatically cuts its potential audience and comes at a time when the Russian state is tightening its grip on the media. “The timing is awful,” said one MP.

Hague suggested that the Chinese service would see a similar shift in emphasis to that in Russia. From Yahoo! News:

Hague said the China service is used by a small number of people and needs refocusing on enriched online services designed to appeal to younger audiences and people outside China.

The shift of Chinese-language material to the Internet had already become established over the last few years according to Connor Walsh, formerly a Broadcast Assistant at the World Service. He added that Mandarin broadcasts had long been “jammed to bejaysus” by the Chinese government, limiting the direct impact of stopping shortwave transmission.

Hague responded to rumours of impending cuts last September, saying:

“Of course in the current situation, all parts of the public sector have to be scrutinised for value for money and the BBC World Service themselves believe that it is possible to make economies without necessarily affecting the services they provide.

“You shouldn’t believe some of the wilder rumours that fly around.”

See also: the BBC’s Chinese-language website, explanation of licence fee vs. Foreign Office funding on Wikipedia, and BBC Director-General Mark Thompson’s article in The Telegraph about the World Service and its future.

January 26, 2011 9:16 PM
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