Archbishop raises concerns over BBC World Service cuts

By agency reporter
17 Feb 2011

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, raised concerns yesterday (16 February) about the effect of cuts to the BBC World Service in a question to Government Ministers in the House of Lords.

The Archbishop, who is a long term supporter and advocate of the importance of the BBC World Service, tabled a question for written answer in the House of Lords after meeting with representatives from the National Union of Journalists this week to receive their analysis of the proposed cuts.

The World Service is internationally popular with an audience of millions across radio, television and online platforms. The proposed cuts to the World Service include losing a quarter of all staff, closure of five foreign language services, and a 16 per cent reduction in the government grant over the next five years.

It is estimated that as a result there will be a 30 million drop in the World Service's weekly audience from 180 million people to 150 million people worldwide.

The Archbishop said: "The BBC World Service output is much loved and respected across the globe. Not only is it the gold standard for international affairs coverage, it has a unique ability to reach into a variety of situations overseas - often where democratic values and basic human rights are not being upheld.

"Just look at the way the World Service has been covering the protests in Egypt, or the way it reports natural disasters or war. There is no-one else providing the same level of insight for a global audience.

"We should not underestimate the role that the World Service plays for those living overseas. I remember BBC journalist Alan Johnston telling me the hope that listening to the World Service gave him when he was being held captive in Gaza. He could hear that people at home were thinking of him and praying for his release. The day his abductors gave him a radio he heard me say on the World Service "Do not be afraid. Be strong."

"My concern is that these cuts will not only mean redundancies for those living at home, but a significant reduction in service for those living overseas. We have a responsibility to reach out to others and ensure that the message of hope the BBC World Service can bring rings out as widely as possible.

"I am raising these concerns with Government ministers today to see what can be done to address these cuts. In my opinion, the Government is doing good work in relation to prioritising International Aid to countries that need it, but I would like to see this coupled with getting a message of hope, fairness, democracy and justice out to these same areas.

"With the closure of language services in Azeri, Mandarin for China, Russian, Spanish for Cuba, Turkish, Vietnamese and Ukrainian, I wonder if we can really call it the 'world service' anymore!"

The Archbishop's question for written answer in the House of Lords is as follows:

"To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment it has made regarding the effect of proposed cuts to the BBC World Service, and whether it will put in appropriate funding to ensure a high level of coverage is maintained across the globe."

[Ekk/4]

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