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BBC Monitoring at Caversham - hard of hearing?

Friday 5 November 2010, 14:00

Roger Bolton Roger Bolton

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BBC Monitoring at Caversham, near Reading.

Editor's note: this week's item from Radio 4's accountability programme Feedback is about BBC Monitoring after the renegotiated licence fee settlement - SB

Shortly before his execution Charles 1 was taken to Caversham Park near Reading, where he wrote to his son James to arrange their last meeting. By the time his other son, Charles 2nd had returned from exile to regain the throne, Caversham had fallen into ruin and disrepair.

It´s not quite so dramatic, but major threats face the current day occupants of the historic park. The BBC Monitoring Unit is to undergo unprecedented cuts and a change of funding which could change what they do forever. The Unit has been at Caversham since 1942 occupying a beautiful early Victorian building which dominates the skyline above Reading and the River Thames.

With its listening stations around the world it was the first to hear of the death of Hitler, and of Khruschev"s decision to withdraw missiles from Cuba and so avoid a terrifying nuclear confrontation. Today its main customers are UK Government departments including MI5 and MI6, BBC newsrooms, businesses here and abroad, and research and academic institutions.

Until now its main funding has come, not from the licence fee, but from a direct Government grant. However in the whirlwind weekend when the latest BBC licence fee deal was thrashed out the Government announced that from 2013 the Government would withdraw its financial support and the Monitoring Unit would be funded from the licence fee.

In other words, it will have to compete for funds with all the other BBC activities. Members of the unit are already facing cuts of 26%, and there could well be more in the offing. How could that affect listeners? For Feedback I travelled to Caversham to talk to the Director of BBC Monitoring, Chris Westcott, about the changes and challenges they present. There are 8 clocks on the wall of his outer office, each showing a different time. Written above them the places to which they refer - Washington, Kiev, Cairo, Nairobi, Moscow, Baku,Tashkent, Delhi.

With a cup of tea in my hand, I knocked on the door and went in:

Roger Bolton is presenter of Feedback

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    Comment number 1.

    I am confused by something Dr Webb said: "Al-Quaeda spends fifty per cent of its effort on media". What does this mean? How is "effort" measured?

    Interesting to note that the BBC Monitoring Unit is paid for by the Cabinet Office, the MOD and the Foreign Office. When the cut of 18 per cent is mentioned, this refers to a cut in funding from the Cabinet Office. Is the percentage cut the same from the MOD?

    I would like to know the total annual amount of money that the Monitoring Unit receives from each of its three funders and I would like to know the total number of staff that this money supports.

    This story raises more questions that it answers. If the Unit is providing the security services with good intelligence on dangerous terrorists then its capacity to perform this function should not be reduced by cuts in its funding.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 2.

    How come Whistledown is producing the programme now? There was quite a fuss when City Broadcasting took over (after Testbed ran into economic problems) see:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/stories/2006/11_november/09/feedback.shtml

    Shouldn’t the presenter be changed if the production company changes? I still miss Chris Dunkley – always supported the listener and wouldn’t take any nonsense from recalcitrant controllers.

  • Comment number 3.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

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    Comment number 4.

    An interesting item, and one which should raise the profile of BBC Monitoring and the invaluable work which it has carried out quietly for years and years and which has provided a stream of unique information for the country.

    Just one small quibble (and Roger Bolton is not the only one to do this) - I keep seeing BBC Monitoring referred to as a "Unit", which makes it sound like it's a small, parochial operation. It certainly isn't - Monitoring has world-wide reach and coverage - and its correct title is simply "BBC Monitoring".

 

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