Painful day for BBC World Service
Update, Monday 31 January: Thank you for your comments. I have replied to some of them here.
It's been a painful day for the BBC World Service and its audience of 180 million around the world. This morning I announced a fundamental restructure to the BBC World Service in order to meet the 16% savings target required by the UK government's Spending Review last October.
At the moment BBC WS is funded by Grant-in-Aid provided by the government.
BBC WS will be funded by the licence fee from April 2014.
Over the next three years, we will have to make to an annual saving of £46m by April 2014.
In all the changes announced today, the aim has been to protect the WS, its quality and reputation and, where possible, our footprint.
Our choices are based on the needs of our audiences and the limited resources that we now have available.
Under these proposals we expect 480 posts to close over the next year and by the time the BBC World Service moves in to the licence fee we estimate the number of proposed closures to reach up to 650.
Today I announced:
• The closure of five language services; Albanian, Macedonian, Portuguese for Africa and Serbian, as well as the English for the Caribbean regional service.
• The end of radio programmes in seven languages, focusing those services on online and new media content and distribution. These include: Azeri, Mandarin Chinese (note that Cantonese radio programming continues), Russian (some programmes will be distributed online only), Spanish for Cuba, Turkish, Vietnamese, and Ukrainian.
• Reduction of most short-wave and medium-wave distribution.
• In World Service English the schedule will become simpler and some programmes, Europe Today and Politics UK will be decommissioned. There are other changes to the schedule.
The closure of services and programmes is painful. This is not a reflection on their performance. They're all extremely important to their audiences and to the BBC. And I pay tribute to the brilliant journalists who have done a superb job for their audiences and the BBC.
We are making cuts that we would rather not be making.
We estimate that there will be an immediate drop of more than 30 million in our audience figures as a result of these measures. We will need to make investments in new content and services to be able to respond to competitive pressure and audience and technology changes. It's the only way to avoid further reductions in our reach.
In our programming in English, we will invest in some of our highest quality and best known radio programmes. World Have Your Say will have an extra daily edition and From Our Own Correspondent will add short daily programmes to its weekly offer.
Our aim has been to maintain the great quality of the English programming, despite the need to make significant savings. And I believe it is possible to do that.
The strength and quality of radio in English is the cornerstone of the World Service and long may it live.
From April 2014 BBC WS will be funded by the licence fee.
The director general and the BBC Trust have committed to protecting the World Service. The director general, Mark Thompson, said that he intends to restore some of the funding we are losing in the interest of audiences when World Service becomes licence fee-funded in 2014.
After today's announcements a lot will change.
What won't change is the BBC's aim to continue to be the world's best known and most trusted provider of high quality, impartial and editorially independent international news.
We will continue to bring the BBC's expertise, perspectives and content to the largest worldwide audience, which will reflect well on Britain and its people.
Finally, I am immensely proud of all the World Service staff that have, under a period of huge uncertainty, continued to deliver brilliant programmes. My aim is to ensure that, whatever the pain today and over the coming months, we will continue to produce that superb journalism and we remain the most trusted broadcaster in the world.
I would very much like to have comments or questions from BBC audiences around the world, so please post your points here and I will endeavour to answer them.
Update 1130, 31 January: Thank you for your comments.
We have been overwhelmed by the messages of support both from our audiences and public opinion for BBC World Service. Most have expressed their disappointment at some of the decisions taken especially regarding closure of services and stopping short-wave distribution.
Let me clarify first one of the issues that is quite fundamental in the current debate - that of the funding of WS, as expressed in one of the comments here by James Rigby: "Why should the British licence-fee payer fund broadcasts for overseas audiences?".
Currently BBC World Service is funded by Grant-in-Aid from the FCO. The plans, I announced this week, cover the next three years till 2014. For the next three years, BBC WS will be funded by Grant-in-Aid from the FCO. It is this funding that has been cut as part of the government's Comprehensive Spending Review.
Many members of our audience have written to express their willingness to help with the cut to our funding. "I wish that before going to these drastic cuts that the BBC had asked people outside of the UK if they would be willing to pay for the services -I know I would pay!", writes cfgarside. We are grateful for those offers of support. But the charter under which the WS operates does not allow for receiving money from individuals to fund the WS.
BBC World Service Trust - the BBC's international charity - is funded by external grants and voluntary contributions and a small amount of core support from the BBC. It receives donations from the public.
BBC WS Trust works to strengthen the media in developing countries and shares expertise with broadcast partners. Some of the discussion programmes produced are also broadcast on World Service in various languages.
"I am deeply disappointed about the cutting of BBC WS Caribbean Service...Please reconsider us here," writes Frank Power.
BBC Caribbean service has indeed been a one of the oldest and most distinguished services the BBC has provided in English. The Caribbean Islands have important heritage links with the UK and BBC content will continue to be available through a number of outlets including a network of FM relays serving potentially 80% of the population in Antigua, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.
I would be happy to respond to comments or questions from audiences around the world. Please do post them here.
Peter Horrocks is the director of BBC World Service.