The NUJ today demanded an immediate halt to the cuts at the BBC World Service after a report by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee said the broadcaster "is of such value to the nation that its income should be ring-fenced against spending cuts".
The Committee said the planned 16% budget cuts should be reversed and were a "false economy". In January the BBC said it would close five of its language services because of the Foreign Office funding cuts.
Committee chairman Richard Ottaway said: "The value of the World Service in promoting the UK across the globe, by providing a widely-respected and trusted news service, far outweighs its relatively small cost.
"The recent dramatic events in North Africa and the Middle East have shown the 'soft power' wielded through the World Service could bring even more benefits to the UK in the future than it has in the past."
Last October the government reduced the World Service's £237 million annual budget by 16% and announced the BBC would take over the cost of running it from the Foreign Office from 2014. The committee's report said "the decision was essentially financial" and "taken at very short notice, albeit with the full agreement of BBC top management".
The report suggests using part of the Department for International Development's budget to make up the shortfall.NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear said: “The NUJ is pleased that the committee has agreed with broadcasting unions and others who gave evidence about the quality and range of World Service output which needs to be defended.
“The cuts programme proposed by BBC management has already done damage through service closures. The BBC must stop the cuts immediately, and also halt the selection procedures for compulsory redundancy right now.
“The damaging service closures already implemented must be reversed immediately to protect the World Service as a source of information for people across the world, described by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan as ‘perhaps Britain’s greatest gift to the world’.
“The committee report is acidly polite in pointing out that there is a ‘discrepancy between the relatively small amounts of money needed to avoid the most damaging cuts to the World Service and the scale of the Department for International Development Spending Review settlement’.
“The attempt to cut the BBC World Service has inspired a level of international protest which echoes everything that BBC journalists have said about their concern for the service they provide.
“We hope, and demand, that the Foreign Office and the government now listen to the Foreign Affairs Committee when its considered report so clearly agrees with all that opposition to cuts.
“Let’s not mince words. The report shows that the cutters have got it badly wrong in attacking the BBC World Service. This report is an opportunity to reverse that disastrous policy.”
Pic: Jon Slattery