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MPs Don’t Trust the BBC on the World Service

April 8, 2014

At the beginning of last week the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee put out their latest report on the future of the BBC World Service and consistent with previous reports they remain deeply sceptical about the future of the World Service now that funding responsibility has passed to the BBC (ie from License Fee income rather than a grant via the FCO)

What is particularly exercising the Committee in this report is the way that the World Service is being integrated into the structure of the BBC. The World Service is part of the BBC News Group comprising all news services. The Director of the BBC World Service, Peter Horrocks is also Director of Global News and sits on the BBC News Board. One of the issues exercising the MPs is that there is no longer a separate World Service Board and in addition Horrocks does not sit on the main ‘board of directors’ of the Corporation the Executive Board. The BBC’s view is because Horrocks’ boss the Director of News and Current Affairs sits on the Executive Board the World Service is adequately represented. In addition they claim that the ‘worst outcome’ for the Service would be for it to be considered as a ‘ghetto’ or an ‘adjunct’.* The MPs suspect that despite the new agreement between the government and the BBC on the World Service it is essentially going to end up being subordinated to the broader corporate purposes of the BBC. William Hague doesn’t see it as his job to tell the BBC how to organize itself.

Some policy advice: the BBC is up for the renewal of its Charter next year, the new Charter needs to be approved by Parliament so MPs have the option of inserting language into the Charter and/or the agreement that goes with it that protects the World Service. The BBC would hate this but I think that the license agreed with the William Hague is rather vague about the relationship of the World Service to the broader international activities of the BBC.

*This strikes me as a little ironic given that the reputation of the World Service has been cultivated while it was an ‘adjunct’ – outside the structure of the regular domestic BBC.

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