3 Proposed closures and service reductions |
18. The Foreign Secretary announced the World
Service's proposed closures and service reductions on 26 January
2011. He stated that he had approved "the BBC Trust's proposal
to close five language services: Albanian, Macedonian, Serbian,
Portuguese for Africa and English for the Caribbean".
More detail was provided by the Director of the World Service,
Peter Horrocks, in an e-mail to Members of Parliament also dated
26 January. As part
of a plan to make annual savings of £46 million by the end
of three years, Mr Horrocks announced, in addition to the five
full service closures:
- the end of radio distribution
in seven languages leaving those services reliant on online and
new media distribution: Azeri, Mandarin Chinese (Cantonese radio
programmes continue), Russian (save for three programmes which
will be distributed online), Spanish for Cuba, Turkish, Vietnamese,
and Ukrainian. Subsequent written evidence from the World Service
indicates that "the distribution saving [of closing these
services] is expected to be £0.8 million per annum",
with "associated savings in production costs of £4.2
million per annum".
- a phased withdrawal from most short wave and
medium wave radio distribution. Language services affected included:
Arabic, Hindi, Indonesian, Kyrgyz, Nepali, Swahili, the Great
Lakes service in Kinyarwanda/Kirundi (for Rwanda and Burundi)
and Uzbek, all of which will cease broadcasting on short wave
in March 2011. Service in FM and through online distribution will
- a reduction in the distribution of World Service
As a result of this process:
- It is estimated that there
will be 650 post closures by 2014-15 from a total of 2,400 staff.
It was proposed to close 480 of those posts during the next financial
year 2011-2012, and
- It was expected that audiences would fall by
more than 30 million from the current weekly figure of 180 million.
19. The 'Broadcasting Agreement' governing the
relationship between the FCO and the World Service states that
"The FCO is responsible for agreeing with the BBC objectives
and appropriate performance measures", but that the BBC World
Service remains "independent in all matters concerning the
content of its output, the times and manner in which this is supplied
and in the management of its affairs".
Closure of language services require the formal approval of the
Foreign Secretary, but other service reductions can be imposed
by World Service management without Ministers having a 'veto'
20. The World Service told us that a meeting
between their management and the Foreign Secretary took place
on 14 December 2010, to discuss "options for delivering the
savings required by the Spending Review settlement".
At this meeting, criteria were agreed that would guide the World
Service's subsequent decisions to close or reduce services, namely:
the strategic importance of the countries they serve
and the need of their populations for independent, impartial news;
the impact of BBC services in those markets; and the cost effectiveness
of the services.
21. Prior to the formal announcement from the
BBC, Sir Michael Lyons, Chair of the BBC Trust, wrote to the Foreign
Secretary, on 12 January, requesting his formal agreement to the
proposed service closures. This letter stated that:
I believe we both agree that it is imperative that
service continues to reach as wide an audience as possible in
a rapidly changing global media environment, as well as continuing
to fulfil its vitally important role for the UK.
However, Sir Michael added, the decisions
taken together, will materially affect the audience
and impact of the World Service, but are unavoidable given the
financial framework for the World Service.
22. In November 2010, giving evidence as part
of our FCO Performance and Finances inquiry, Peter Horrocks
told us that "hundreds of jobs [...] will need to go"
as a result of the reduced Grant-in-Aid to the World Service announced
in the Spending Review. He added that the World Service was a
very staff-heavy organisation, and therefore "most of our
costs are in people, and so the reduction in staff numbers will
be broadly in line with the level of savings that we need to makei.e.
more than 16%."
23. In January 2011 the World Service announced
that "there will be post closures of 650 by 2014/15 from
a total of 2400 staff. It is proposed to close 480 of those posts
during the next financial year 2011/2012." The World Service
states that due to the creation of new posts the net number of
post closures during 2011/12 is expected to be 433.
In March 2011 we asked the Trade Union Representatives their views
on both the job losses and the process by which those figures
were reached. Luke Crawley of BECTU praised the BBC's handling
of the consultation process, telling us that:
I think I can say that they have been fairly detailed,
extensive andI have to sayover a relatively short
period of time, for lots of good reasons. I think the BBC has
made serious efforts to ensure that consultation is proper and
adequate. At the moment, I don't think we would have any complaint
about what is happening. We are less happy about the outcome,
but the BBC is consulting properly.
However, both Mr Crawley and Jeremy Dear of the NUJ
drew our attention to the fact that none of the proposed job losses
would take place at a senior management level.
24. We asked the World Service where the announced
480 job losses in the coming financial year would be targeted
and which grades of staff would be made redundant. We were told
that before the Spending Review senior managers had "already
taken a reduction of 25%" and as a result no senior management
changes had occurred as a result of the Spending Review.
Mr Thomas provided us with more information on exactly where the
forthcoming 480 losses would be targeted. He said that these job
losses would be shared evenly between junior management and non-management:
I had a look at the split by grades and, if you look
at grades 9 and above, which is where people start getting management
responsibility, 15% of the post closures were within that category.
When you compare that to the spread in the total population [in
the BBC as a whole] it came out at 15.6%.
Mr Thomas characterised Grade 9 as "quite junior".
25. We conclude that the announced
loss of 650 out of 2,400 jobs in the World Service represents
27% of the total workforce, and that this level of job loss is
disproportionate to the 16% cut in World Service funding under
the Spending Review settlement.
Employees at risk
26. The residence status of some employees of
the World Service is dependent on their continued employment with
the BBC. Witnesses raised concerns with us that if these journalists
were made redundant they would have their residence permit revoked
and would be returned to their home countries where their lives
would potentially be in danger. Jeremy Dear told us that:
You have here journalists broadcasting news about
foreign Governments, some dictatorial and tyrannical, in different
parts of the world. You then have the possibility that they lose
their job and their visa, as a result being sent back [...] our
fear is that we will get some situationsit might be China,
Russia or some of the countries in Africa and so onwhere
you have a very real danger of people being sent back to countries
that can appear vaguely democratic on the surface, but actually
for journalists are very dangerous.
27. During the exchanges in the House on the
Urgent Question on 26 January, the Foreign Secretary was asked
about journalists currently working in the UK who may, on losing
their jobs, be required to return to their own countries, at possible
risk to themselves. Mr Hague replied that:
There should be no question of that happening. We
have well established procedures, over which the Home Secretary
presides, to ensure that people do not go back to danger in their
home countries. That is a separate issue, but if it comes up at
all, and if there is any danger of those things happening, Ministers
will want to make sure that they do not.
28. During our evidence session on 9 March, Luke
Crawley told us that BECTU estimated that there were 277 people
whose residence in the UK was dependent on their continued employment
with the World Service. Of those, he claimed that "around
half" could face repatriation. While BECTU welcomed the Foreign
Secretary's 26 January assurance, Mr Crawley called for further,
more concrete action from the FCO.
29. Also on 9 March, Peter Horrocks commented
on the status of staff who could face repatriation as a result
of job losses at the World Service:
We are still in the relatively early stages of the
process of losing the staff who unfortunately will need to leave.
We have done the analysis of the numbers of people who are on
various different visas and permissions to remain [...] As we
get nearer to identifying individuals, we will be able to assess
whether that is working in terms of the response from officials
within the Border Agency and Home Office and so on.
Mr Horrocks called the Foreign Secretary's reassurance
30. We welcome the Foreign Secretary's
assurance to the House that World Service journalists who lose
their jobs will not be compelled to return to a country where
they may face persecution or be placed in physical danger. We
conclude that it is important that this assurance is honoured.
We recommend that, in its response to this Report, the World Service
update us on the continuing status of those individuals whose
residence in this country depends on their employment with the
Closure of short-wave services
31. Many witnesses criticised the decision to
close shortwave transmission in seven languages, and leave those
services reliant on online and new media distribution. The NUJ
claimed that "up to 40% of BBCWS listeners use short-wave
transmission" while for non-English services, the BBC's mobile
and internet audiences are just 6% of the size of the radio audience.
They estimated that the World Service currently spent only around
£7 million a year on short-wave distribution.
32. The NUJ also argued that the "internet
can be turned off at any time by repressive regimes" and
the "BBC is constantly removed from FM for political reasons
in places such as Sri Lanka [...] short wave radio guarantees
They added that "short-wave broadcasts that cannot be intercepted
and which can be listened to in safety will be abandoned in favour
of a policy that allows local censors across the world to decide
what the BBC can broadcast or publish".
33. An example of the vulnerability of internet
services to action by a repressive government was given during
the recent disturbances in Egypt: at 10.30 GMT on 27 January 2011,
traffic to and from Egypt across 80 internet providers around
the world dropped precipitously, as the result of the simultaneous
withdrawal of services by Egyptian internet service providers.
The graph below indicates the extent to which this occurred.
Some days earlier the Egyptian government had suppressed access
to Facebook and Twitter. Other countries, including China, Iran,
Thailand and Tunisia, have cut off access to news websites and
social networking services during periods of unrest.
Source: "Protests in Egypt: as they happened",
The Guardian, 28 January 2011
34. Under the plans announced on 26 January,
the BBC Hindi shortwave service was scheduled to close in March
2011. According to World Service figures, this reduction in output
would have saved £680,000 and seen the closure of 30 equivalent
There was disquiet about this decision. A staff member of the
Hindi service, Naleen Kumar, told us that the planned cuts in
the service would save only around 5 pence per listener, adding
that there "is no other medium to provide the Hindi Service
news and current affairs programmes to listeners in India as the
FM radio is not open to non-state broadcasters for news",
and that therefore the announcement meant that "the World
Service is pulling out completely from news and current affairs
radio in Hindi".
Marianne Landzettel, another employee of BBC Hindi, questioned
the alleged savings that the closure of the service would bring.
She told us that the projected saving has been reduced to "just
A group including radio broadcaster Mark Tully and Booker prizewinner
Arundhati Roy released a statement arguing that "For nearly
seven decades BBC Hindi radio has been a credible source of unbiased
and accurate information, especially in times of crisis, [and
therefore] we strongly urge the UK Government to rethink its decision
to severely cut the funding for the BBC World Service to enable
the continued transmissions of BBC Hindi on shortwave radio."
35. Following this public criticism, the World
Service announced a temporary reprieve for the Hindi service.
On 7 March 2011, it stated that following approaches from commercial
parties with "alternative funding proposals", the World
Service would maintain an hour of current affairs broadcasting
in Hindi on shortwave radio, for an interim period. However, the
situation remains that if alternative commercial funding cannot
be found, the Hindi service is still scheduled to close by March
36. In our session on 9 March, Peter Horrocks
told us that the decision to close the shortwave transmission
of BBC Hindi, despite the relatively large listening figures,
"was largely taken because of the very rapid falls that have
been happening in shortwave listening in Indiavery steep
declines in recent years". Jim Egan, Controller, Strategy
and Distribution, BBC Global News, provided us with figures setting
out the decline in the BBC Hindi shortwave audience. He told us
that in 2007 the audience was 19 million, compared to just under
11 million now. While
accepting that the budget reductions set out in the Spending Review
had accelerated the process somewhat, he said that "the audience
has been falling by more than the 10 million figure organically
because of the change in listening habits."
While stressing the "organic" nature of this declinewith
audiences increasingly listening via other mediathe World
Service did acknowledge that the planned closure would result
in a loss of 10.9 million listeners.
37. We asked the Foreign Secretary how the decision
to close the BBC Hindi shortwave service matched the agreed criteria
for closures, particularly given the strategic importance of India
and the cost-effectiveness of the service. Mr Hague responded
that these decisions were ultimately the responsibility of the
World Service management, but that he had "no reason, having
looked at it, to think that they are making the wrong decisions
with the resources available".
He said that the proposed involvement of local commercial partners,
as suggested by the World Service on 7 March, could be a model
for the future. He told us that that the temporary reprieve "will
give the service a chance that the proposed self-sustaining model
will work. It will not necessarily close in a year, but now they
need the encouragement to make sure that this new model succeeds."
38. The Coalition Government has described an
improvement in bilateral relations with India as one of its priorities.
The Prime Minister led a high-level delegation to India in July
2010, accompanied by six UK government ministers and a delegation
of 58 leaders from UK business, sports, education, arts and culture
and local government.
The FCO has stated that "the Government is committed to a
special relationship with India, one that reflects our deep and
historic ties and recognises India's strategic importance".
39. We conclude that the proposed
closure of the BBC Hindi shortwave service is a matter of deep
concern. The decision to offer the service a limited and temporary
reprieve, contingent on alternative commercial sources of funding
being found, offers only partial reassurance. We note that India
is a major rising economic power and that the Government has professed
its wish to improve bilateral relations as a priority. We further
note that the estimated savings from reducing World Service operations
in India, at £680,000, are small in relation to the nearly
11 million listeners that will be lost. While we welcome the temporary
reprieve of the BBC Hindi shortwave service while alternative
funding models are explored, and we recognise that the service's
audience is likely to continue to fall as a long-term trend, we
recommend that the World Service re-examine the limited "temporary"
reprieve and commit itself to longer-term support for an unreduced
BBC Hindi shortwave service.
40. The World Service stated that the decision
to stop all of BBC China's radio output in Mandarin was taken
"due to the jamming of short wave radio signals by the Chinese
authorities over decades," as a result of which "BBC
Chinese's radio programming in Mandarin struggles to make a lasting
impact and reaches a very small audience given the size of the
The World Service estimate that this decision will entail the
loss of 595,000 listeners and the closure of 8 equivalent full-time
posts, for a saving of £413,000.
Provision in Mandarin, Cantonese and English will continue via
online and mobile media.
41. The World Service attributed BBC Mandarin's
relatively low listening figures to issues of both supply and
demand. Blocking and jamming activities by the Chinese authorities
hinder potential listeners, mainly in urban areas; and in those
rural areas which are able to access shortwave transmissions,
listening figures remain low. The World Service told us that,
as a result "it has not been possible to get the sort of
impact for our Mandarin broadcasts that merits the expenditure
that we have committed to it".
Mr Keith Perron, the owner of PCJ Media/Radio based in Taiwan,
questioned the World Service's view that the BBC Mandarin service
had lacked "impact". He noted his experiences after
the Sichaun Earthquake of 2008 when a "number of people came
to ask me if I had a shortwave radio so they could listen to the
BBC to find out what was happening with the relief efforts".
42. The World Service told us that, "the
service will refocus away from radio to concentrate on its online
However, in June 2010, the Chinese government published a strategy
paper asserting its right to censor the internet inside its own
borders: "Laws and regulations clearly prohibit the spread
of information that contains content subverting state power, undermining
national unity [or] infringing upon national honour and interests
[...] Within Chinese territory the internet is under the jurisdiction
of Chinese sovereignty. The internet sovereignty of China should
be respected and protected."
There are many examples of people in China being arrested for
accessing internet pages deemed off-limits by the Chinese authorities.
43. There is concern that the World Service may
have difficulty in providing a widely accessible objective news
service within China, maintaining its independence from the Chinese
authorities and avoiding political pressure, if it switches to
a wholly online Mandarin service. The NUJ quoted an unnamed Chinese
journalist as having said:
the Chinese political system is still the same, and
alternative political views are hard to find. Just one example:
during the award-giving ceremony for last year's Nobel Peace prize,
and because the winner was a Chinese dissident, the Chinese media
was ordered not to report it, and the foreign media like satellite
television have been blocked [...] and yet if people have a short-wave
radio, they can still hear the most moving and inspiring ceremony
and speeches via BBC Mandarin broadcast.
The World Service assured us that they will be introducing
"new circumvention technology that helps users on the internet
to get round some of the blocks put in the so-called great firewall
44. We asked the Foreign Secretary how the World
Service's decision to abandon short-wave service in China would
impact on the Chinese people's ability to access independent,
impartial news. Mr Hague responded that the online audience in
China was growing, and that the decision to concentrate on online
provision would also allow communication with "vast numbers
of Mandarin Chinese speakers outside of China". He stated
that "with the limited resources available, that is the sensible
way to go".
45. We conclude that the decision
to close BBC China's short-wave output in Mandarin does not meet
the criteria for service closures set out by the BBC and the Foreign
Secretary, particularly the criterion regarding the "strategic
importance of the countries they serve and the need of their populations
for independent, impartial news". The shift from short-wave
to online services in China will leave World Service transmissions
vulnerable to action taken by the Chinese government to suppress
or block internet traffic. Although the number of shortwave listeners
may be in gradual decline, the underlying strength of shortwave
transmission remains that it is much harder to turn off, block
or criminalise compared to online provision. We recommend that
the World Service should commit itself to longer-term support
for an unreduced BBC China short-wave service in Mandarin.
46. Of the 480 announced job losses scheduled
to occur in 2011-12, 60 posts will be lost in the BBC Arabic service.
This is the single largest concentration of job losses in the
World Service, amounting to nearly 25% of all its job losses in
In March 2011, in the midst of mass political protest, political
change and instability in the region, Peter Horrocks highlighted
the apparent desire of protesters in Cairo and Bahrain to tune
into the BBC Arabic service. He said that:
You can see through the Arabic service, through both
the traditional delivery through radiowe are retaining
and sustaining the shortwave for radioas well as the investment
in television and online, whose figures have doubled in recent
weeks, the importance of and the need for what the World Service
Mr Horrocks went on to describe BBC Arabic as a "priority
47. Given these statements, we asked Mr Horrocks
whether the World Service regretted announcing 60 job losses in
the Arabic service. We noted that the FCO had increased the number
of its staff assigned to the region in the short-term and had
suggested to us that recent events would have long-term implications
for the Department's priorities.
Mr Horrocks conceded that the changes would weaken the BBC's ability
to cover the region:
If these changes had happened six months earlier,
we clearly would have had fewer journalists in Egypt; for instance,
the radio journalists who have been brilliantly contributing to
our coverage. You may have used the BBC live page on News Online,
which has this amazing updated rolling information about what's
happening in North Africa. A large amount of the information in
that is being provided by the BBC Arabic journalists, so, of course,
losing that number of journalists would mean that we are less
able to cover that story.
Mr Horrocks held out no prospect that the World Service
would rethink these post closures, stating that "If I were
to say we will rescind all those job losses within the Arabic
service, I would have to find another 60 posts across the piece
and that would be very significant". He was also hopeful
that developments in the Middle East would see a change in media
organisations and a loosening of restrictions, and that the BBC
could work closely in partnership with, and providing support
to, these bodies.
48. Speaking to us the following week, on 16
March, the Foreign Secretary commented that for the 'core FCO'
the recent dramatic developments in the Arab world had:
already required a diversion of resourcesthe
Middle East and North Africa department has grown considerably
over the past few weeks in terms of the number of people in the
Foreign Office devoted to it. I think that that might turn out
to be a permanent change for the next decade. Of course, we will
have to see what happens over the coming months, but if this is
as important for world affairs as I was arguing at the beginning
of our meeting, it requires a greater proportion of the energy
and manpower of British foreign policy to be devoted to it.
49. We conclude that it is unfortunate
that the World Service has announced 60 job losses in its BBC
Arabic Service, just as North Africa and the Middle East look
likely to play an even greater role in foreign affairs, and as
events are occurring which call for the provision within this
region of high-quality, objective journalism and news coverage.
As with the closures to the Chinese and Hindi services, we do
not see how this change meets the agreed criteria, particularly
those concerning the strategic importance of the countries they
serve and the impact of BBC services in those markets.
50. While we accept that the
World Service could not have anticipated these events, we conclude
that they require a reconsideration of the announced changes.
We note that the 'core FCO' has responded to recent events in
the Arab world by diverting considerable resources to the region,
and we recommend that the World Service re-order its priorities
along the same lines. The World Service should commit itself to
providing enhanced resources to BBC Arabic as required by the
recent and continuing political developments in the region.
29 HC Deb, 26 January 2011, col 13WS; "English
for the Caribbean" refers to dialects of the English language
spoken in the Caribbean. Back
"BBC World Service cuts outlined to staff", BBC News
Online, 26 January 2011, and Ev 38 Back
Ev 31-32, Q 1 Back
"Broadcasting Agreement for the Provision of the BBC World
Service", Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the British
Broadcasting Corporation, paras 6 and 9, http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/WS_Broadcasting_Agreement02FINAL.pdf,
accessed 18 March 2011 Back
Ev 41-42, para 20 Back
Letter, William Hague to Sir Michael Lyons, 21 January 2011, page
1. Placed in the House of Commons Library. Back
Letter, Sir Michael Lyons to William Hague, 12 January 2011, page
2. Placed in the House of Commons Library. Back
Q 69-70 Back
Ev 31-36, Q 11 Back
Q 28 Back
Q 29 Back
Q 70 Back
Q 72 Back
Q 75 Back
Q 26 Back
HC Deb, 26 January 2011, col 303 Back
Q 23 Back
Q 69 Back
Q 69 Back
Ev 23-28, para 20 Back
Ev 23-28, para 16 Back
Ev 23-28, para 44 Back
"Protests in Egypt: as they happened", The Guardian,
28 January 2011; "How Egypt shut down the internet",
The Telegraph, 28 January 2011 Back
"How Egypt shut down the internet", The Telegraph,
28 January 2011 Back
Ev 38 Back
Ev w32-33, para 1 Back
Ev w16 Back
"Radio legend joins battle to keep BBC Hindi on air",
The Times, 18 February 2011 Back
"World Service statement on BBC Hindi", BBC World Service
press release, 7 March 2011 Back
Q 47 Back
Q 44-46 [Horrocks] Back
Q 50 Back
Developments in UK Foreign Policy, Transcript of session
of 16 March 2011, Q 70 Back
Ibid., Q 71 Back
Ev 31-36, Question 2 Back
Ev 38 Back
Q 90 [Mr Egan] Back
Ev w3-4, para 9 Back
Ev 31-36, Question 2 Back
See: "China Defends Internet Censorship", BBC News
Online, 8 June 2010 Back
Ev w3-4, para 7 Back
Ev 23-28, para 29 Back
Q 90 [Mr Horrocks] Back
Developments in UK Foreign Policy, Transcript of session
of 16 March 2011, Q 66 Back
Ev 31-35, Question 11 Back
Q 34 Back
Q 54 Back
Developments in UK Foreign Policy, Transcript of session
of 16 March 2011, Q 47 [Simon Fraser] Back
Q 78 Back
Q 79 Back
Developments in UK Foreign Policy, Transcript of session
of 16 March 2011, Q 47 Back