The BBC has announced significant changes to its World Service programming that would result in the loss of hundreds of jobs, claiming that the government’s continued license fee freeze has compelled them to take such action.
The corporation will quit producing radio output in 10 languages, including Chinese, Hindi, and Arabic, in a move that may reduce the UK’s soft influence abroad.
The revelation that BBC Persian will stop broadcasting audio to Iran coincides with the country’s ongoing countrywide protests.
The World Service’s English-language radio output will similarly shift its emphasis, with more time devoted to live news and sports programming at the expense of solo programs.
According to the BBC, the measures will result in the loss of about 382 jobs in order to save £28.5 million annually. The broadcaster cited the government’s years of below-inflation license fee freezes as well as the fast rising cost of creating programs due to the status of the economy.
The BBC must adapt to the digital age, Philippa Childs of the broadcasting union Bectu said, but the government’s license fee freeze has “possible consequences for the BBC’s reputation abroad.”
Historically, the World Service received direct government funding and was viewed as a soft power tool that brought British news and information to hundreds of millions of people around the world. This funds mostly dried up.
Historically, the World Service received direct government funding and was viewed as a soft power tool that brought British news and information to hundreds of millions of people around the world. When the cost of World Service operations was passed along to domestic licence fee payers in 2010, this money mainly dried up as a result of George Osborne’s austerity policies.
Since then, the BBC has had to approach the government for more funds to support particular World Service initiatives, and ministers have given an additional £400 million since 2016. On the other hand, it’s uncertain how long these agreements will last. The BBC had to ask governments for an emergency £4 million earlier this year to maintain its operations in Ukraine and Russia on air.
According to a BBC spokesperson, the UK Foreign Office was consulted regarding the most recent changes, and no country would completely lose access to World Service programming because digital operations would continue in all languages.
A total of 226 jobs will be lost in the UK and 156 abroad. The BBC states that despite the funding reductions, the World Service still has a weekly audience of about 364 million listeners.
Some of the World Service’s foreign-language teams will relocate to the nations they cover, such as the Thai, Korean, and Bangla services, which will all move to Bangkok, Seoul, and Dhaka, respectively. Many employees working on those services stated that they plan to be laid off rather than move, which would result in the loss of institutional expertise.
Gujarati, Somali, and Urdu television news will no longer be broadcast, and Igbo, Indonesian, and Yoruba language services will now only be available online.
The BBC will also change its emphasis from supplying news updates to foreign broadcasters to trying to get viewers to use the BBC’s own media and website.