Christian trade union leaders in the National Union of Journalists (NUJ)and the media and entertainment union BECTU working at the BBC are calling on church leaders to intervene against the deep cuts imposed by the government on the BBC World Service, as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review. Analysis by the NUJ on the impact of the cuts was handed to the Archbishop of York, the Rt Rev Dr John Sentamu, during his visit to the BBC on Sunday. He pledged to raise the issue in the House of Lords.
The World Service is internationally popular with an audience of millions across radio, television and online platforms. The cuts include a quarter of all staff and five foreign language service closures. The consequences will be a 30 million drop in weekly global audience from 180 million to 150 million.
David Campanale is the NUJ Father of Chapel in the BBC World News TV, and a director of the Christian aid agency, Tearfund. He said the World Service plays a vital role in truth-telling around the world. He is looking to the churches to speak out against the cuts, which the unions say will deeply damage an internationally respected and successful broadcaster.
He commented: "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. Some of these services are in regions of great vulnerability because of suppression of religious liberty and the abuse of human rights. The closure of language services in Azeri, Mandarin for China, Russian, Spanish for Cuba, Turkish, Vietnamese and Ukrainian are all causes of concern."
The BBC unions believe that impartial observers across the globe will be mystified by the government's strategy of talking about promoting democratic values and international human rights while inflicting cuts on the BBC World Service and BBC Monitoring. Foreign Secretary William Hague announced he is allocating £58.5 million of Foreign Office spending in the coming year "for the support of democratic values, human rights and British diplomatic influence overseas".
Brian Dale is a representative in one of the BBC's BECTU branches covering technical staff at Television Centre and attends the Community Church in Surbiton. He said that the ability of the Mubarak regime to close internet and mobile phone services during the Egyptian uprising, made ridiculous the BBC's justification that short and medium wave broadcasts were no longer needed as audiences were "migrating to other platforms".
He said: "By cutting 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, shutting down the internet, putting journalists in jail or just locking the doors. Egypt is the latest example where events show the need for a continued shortwave presence."
The proposed cuts include 16 per cent of the £267m government grant over the next five years, during which time the international aid budget will increase by 37 per cent to over £11 billion. Mike Workman is Father of Chapel of the BBC World Service who set up Facebook's SOS BBC World Service page. The site has been inundated with baffled listeners from all over the world who cannot understand why Britain does not value the BBC World Service as one of its most important exports.
An Anglican who has organised staff protests at Bush House in the Strand, Workman commented: "The BBC World Service has a unique role in international relations and could be saved by providing a fraction of the aid budget. Nothing distributed abroad by Britain can compare with the effect of the World Service in supporting democratic values and human rights. That pride in such an excellent service deserves the support of Foreign Secretary William Hague and his government. The Foreign Office should allocate support for democracy overseas by finding the £19 million needed this year to protect the BBC World Service output."
The BBC World Service cuts proposals include:
-Five language services totally closed (Albanian, Macedonian, Serbian, English for Caribbean, Portuguese for Africa)
-Radio programming ending in seven languages: (Azeri, Mandarin for China, Russian, Spanish for Cuba, Turkish, Vietnamese and Ukrainian)
- Immediate end of short wave radio (March 2011) in Hindi, Indonesian, Kyrgyz, Nepali, Swahili and the Great Lakes Service for Rwanda and Burundi,
- Immediate end to short and medium wave in English (March 2011) to Russia and the former Soviet Union.