BBC: WS won't become too commercial

Peter Horrocks MPs want Peter Horrocks to be on management board

The BBC insists that impartial news will always come first on the World Service, despite proposals to move towards greater commercial activity.

It was speaking in response to MPs' concern that the World Service might become too commercial after it moves from grant-in-aid to licence fee funding in April.

In its annual review of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the foreign affairs select committee said: 'We strongly oppose the proposals currently under consideration by the BBC Trust for a wider commercialisation of the World Service.'

The trust's draft operating licence for the World Service encouraged it to 'seek non-licence fee sources of funding (including commercial funding) where appropriate and within regulatory requirements'.

Horrocks letter

The proposals were also referred to in a private letter to a member of the House of Lords from Peter Horrocks, director of global news.

Principally about North Korea, the letter - leaked and printed by the Independent on Sunday - said that this might involve 'launching new language services, if they could be commercially self-sustaining'.

The select committee report also called for greater protection of the World Service at the BBC's highest levels, recommending its representation on both the executive and management boards.

'The picture appears to us to be one of steady erosion of World Service influence within the BBC,' it stated. 'The result may be that the World Service is more regularly denied the resources it needs to maintain or develop services.'

A spokesperson for the BBC said that the World Service is 'championed at the highest levels of the BBC'.

'Both the Director General and its Director of News have been absolutely clear about the vital importance of the World Service to the BBC, Britain and the world, announcing ambitious targets to double the BBC's global reach by 2022.'

She also argued that commercial activity was nothing new to the World Service, with its services often syndicated to partner stations and channels overseas, many of which carried advertising.

And the spokesperson pointed out that the BBC had been encouraged to pursue these additional sources of income by the FCO in 2010, as well as more recently by the trust.

No UK advertising

'We have introduced advertising on our Russian, Arabic and Spanish language online sites and trialled some advertising on our FM radio frequency in Berlin,' she said. 'The BBC's reputation for providing impartial and independent news will always take precedence over wider commercial goals.

'Beyond April 2014, if the position regarding commercial funding is maintained in our new operating licence, we will continue to explore appropriate opportunities which could lessen the cost of the World Service to licence fee payers.

'We have always made clear that commercial activity will only ever constitute a small proportion of our funding and that there will not be advertising on the World Service in the UK.'

Latest figures show that commercial sources contributed £8m (a rise from £5m the previous year) to the World Service's £244m budget in 2012/13.

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