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BBC Revisits World Service Cuts

BBC Hindi gets one more year on shortwave; revolutions help stave off reductions in BBC Arabic airtime

The BBC World Service is getting a tiny reprieve from some of the cuts in its language services announced at the end of January.

The Jasmine Revolutions that are still enveloping the Middle East have led Auntie to scale back its planned cuts to BBC Arabic; instead, the service will continue on shortwave and medium wave to a greater degree than proposed, BBC Global News Director Peter Horrocks told Members of Parliament in March.

Also, the BBC has decided to retain a daily hour-long Hindi-language news program on shortwave. Over the next year, the BBC will seek commercial sponsors for BBC Hindi programs; if sufficient funding sources do not materialize by March 2012, then the service will be closed, according to press reports.

Hindi was one of six services to be pulled completely from shortwave. A further seven services were to be pulled entirely from the airwaves. Six other services were to be eliminated entirely.

By 2014, the BBC World Service expected to remove almost all non-English-language programming from shortwave in favor of the Internet and local FM rebroadcast partners.

The cuts will mean the loss of 650 jobs, about a 27 percent reduction in the BBC World Service workforce, and will yield annual savings of about £46 million by 2014.

The cuts are aimed at removing direct government funding for the BBC World Service; instead all funding would come from the license fee that all U.K. residents pay on their radio and television sets.

However, the cuts to BBC Hindi have led Members of Parliament to debate whether or not some direct governmental funding should be restored in part to support overseas development.

On March 14, in a House of Commons debate over the BBC Hindi cuts, MP Edward Leigh noted that British development agencies have promised some £280 million in funding to the Hindi-speaking states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand through 2015. By contrast the cost of shortwave transmission for BBC Hindi is about £1 million per year.

“We often talk about soft power, and about proclaiming our values. Service such as these represent soft power. They are increasingly recognized as a hugely effective means of delivering diplomacy and our values, with few of the risks associated with more heavy-handed foreign policy interventions. Unlike other countries, Great Britain has a medium through which it can engage with a wide range of Indians, and not simply with the urban elite,” Leigh said.

To that end, Minister for Europe David Lidington noted that there have been ministry-level discussions about funding some BBC World Service activities through the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), with the expenditures being reported as official development assistance.