BBC World Service cuts outlined to staff

Protesters outside Bush House, home to the BBC World Service Protests were held outside Bush House, home to the BBC World Service, on Wednesday

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The BBC has confirmed plans to close five of its 32 World Service language services.

Staff have been informed that up to 650 jobs will be lost from a workforce of 2,400 over the next three years.

The Macedonian, Albanian and Serbian services will be axed, as will English for the Caribbean and Portuguese for Africa, in a bid to save £46m a year.

The BBC estimates audiences will fall by more than 30 million, from 180 million to 150 million a week.

Director general Mark Thompson said it was "a painful day" for the BBC.

Writing in the Telegraph, he said the cuts would "inevitably have a significant impact on the audiences who use and rely upon the relevant services".

Yet he said they were "consistent with our long-range international goals and strategy" and that "supporters of the international role of the BBC should not despair".

The service, which started broadcasting in 1932, currently costs £272m a year and has an audience of 241 million worldwide across radio, television and online.

Foreign Secretary William Hague on the cuts

Last October the government announced the BBC would take over the cost of the World Service from the Foreign Office from 2014.

According to Mr Thompson, the cuts were necessary due to last autumn's Spending Review.

Radio programming in seven languages - Azeri (the official language of Azerbaijan), Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Spanish for Cuba, Turkish, Vietnamese and Ukrainian - will end as part of the plans.

Instead there will be more focus on online, mobile and TV content distribution in these languages.

The World Service will also cease short-wave transmission of six more services in March 2011 - Hindi, Indonesian, Kyrgyz, Nepali, Swahili and the Great Lakes service (for Rwanda and Burundi).


The BBC World Service has confirmed it is closing five of its 32 language services. It's not a total surprise.

In October, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office - which still pays for the World Service - said its grant would be cut by 16%, under the government's Spending Review. (The World Service is not yet funded by the TV licence fee - but will be from 2014.)

The BBC said it also faced extra costs - including a large pension contribution - which meant there would be service closures and significant job losses.

Peter Horrocks: Painful day for World Service

In a written statement to MPs, Foreign Secretary William Hague said the cuts in funding required "difficult decisions to be made".

"We agreed with the BBC that the overall objective was to ensure the World Service should remain an articulate and powerful voice for Britain in the world, and a trusted provider of impartial and independent news."

In Parliament, Mr Hague said the World Service had initially suggested to the Foreign Office the closure of up to 13 language services but he had refused to give permission.

He said the World Service had a "viable and promising future", but was "not immune from public spending constraints".

"It is absolutely right for the World Service to move more services to online and mobile," he said. "That is the way the world is going.

"The World Service has to move with the future, and of course some services have to close."

The BBC said two-thirds of jobs would go in the first 12 months.

Unions have called the moves "ferocious" and have condemned the "drastic cuts".

BBC global news director Peter Horrocks said the World Service still "exists to serve the world"

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Jeremy Dear, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), said that the World Service was "vital" and "should be protected".

The NUJ said it would hold a demonstration outside the World Service headquarters in central London on Wednesday.

It has also written to the chairman of the House of Commons foreign affairs committee, Richard Ottaway, and the chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, John Whittingdale, calling on them to review the plans.

According to the NUJ, the "drastic cuts" would "severely damage the national interest of the UK".

"These ferocious cuts to a valued national service are ultimately the responsibility of the coalition government, whose policies are destroying quality public services in the UK," Mr Dear said.

Broadcasting union Bectu has also expressed dismay, saying the cuts "must be challenged".


  • Portuguese for Africa - began 1939, broadcasts 11 hours a week to 1.5m
  • Albanian - began 1940, broadcasts 17 hours a week to around 500,000
  • English for the Caribbean - began 1976, broadcasts 2.75 hours a week to 850,000
  • Serbian - began 1991, broadcasts 11.25 hours a week to 550,000
  • Macedonian - began 1996, broadcasts 5.25 hours a week to 160,000

It said the union "expects calls for industrial action" and that "at this stage we cannot rule anything in or out".

BBC global news director Peter Horrocks said the closures were "not a reflection on the performance of individual services or programmes".

"They are all extremely important to their audiences and to the BBC," he said.

"It is simply that there is a need to make savings due to the scale of the cuts to the BBC World Service's grant-in-aid funding from the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

"We need to focus our efforts in the languages where there is the greatest need and where we have the strongest impact."

Former World Service managing director Sir John Tusa described the cuts as "bad, bad, bad".

Speaking on the Today programme, he said: "I think it's awful for World Service listeners because they won't have access to the programmes, and it is awful for British foreign policy because they are weakening substantially one of the most important elements of international cultural diplomacy."

BBC World Service cuts in detail

Full service cut Audience Radio only cut Audience

Source: BBC

Portuguese for Africa




English for Caribbean






Mandarin Chinese












Spanish for Cuba


Is the BBC right to make these cuts? Do you listen to any of the affected services? Please read a selection of your views below:

I listen to the short wave transmission of BBC Nepali service every day without fail and so do millions of people in the most remotest part of Nepal. BBC Nepali service team is a vibrant group of dedicated journalists actively engaged in highlighting the social issues, political affairs and sundry of our country and tops every other radio media in terms of listeners tuning to its short wave and relayed transmission. I am very sad that that they plan to shut the SW transmission.

Kash Rizal, Edinburgh, UK

It's time the BBC World Service was closed. It is mostly a 24 hour news station now with the occasional 'Strand' thrown in, and a few other programs repeated endlessly plus a couple of hours of sport at the weekend.

Roy Beagley, Danbury, Connecticut, USA

BBC in Albania has been one of the most important sources of information especially during hard times that Albania has faced in its recent history. I am really sorry about the closure of this service for the Albanian citizens. Thanks "BBC in Albanian" staff for all the work and professionalism you have shown during these years.

Adela, Tirana, Albania

This is a sad day for the BBC and quality news service worldwide. As an expat Aussie, for the last ten years I have lived on the doorstep of the USA (150 kms from Florida) and the airwaves, newspapers and the like are bombarded with the USA view of all things, those newsworthy and many that are not. Standing head and shoulders above these USA services is the BBC. Any cut in the funding of the BBC, hence reduction of its scope/quality of services merely brings it back to the rest of these hacks.

John Bishop, Nassau, Bahamas

I value every aspect of the world service, and have done since moving to Singapore 13 years ago. Why doesn't the BBC ask overseas listeners to pay a fee for certain services to help support the services effected by these cuts. The news services should be continued to be enjoyed around the world. After all when I'm in the UK I would pay the license fee - I wouldn't hesitate in paying a fee to continue access. It seems illogical to cut before even asking the question - can you support?

Tracy Webb, Singapore

I am one of the BBC World Service audiences and I'm not happy following this drastic and ferocious decision. It makes me weep for BBC, I always thought that maybe, I'd some day be employed by your organization. I like all your programmes and services and I'm always proud whenever I provide my friends with news and information from your source - they call me 'BBC'.

Kingsley Bassey, Port Harcourt, Nigeria

Used to always listen to the BBC World Service, but stopped when it cut back on British programmes and comedy. The BBC World Service now broadcasts endless so-called "news" not about Britain - but about other countries. It's former unique programming made listening and enjoyable but now it's just like any other shortwave station. Turn it off and spend the money on taking care of the elderly in the UK.

Dennis, Johannesburg

BBC is the source to go to when you're looking for objective and relevant information. BBC should do what Wikipedia did, asking for a £1 donation from every BBC user; they will respond.

Arturo Aguilar, Monterrey, Mexico

In 2009 I walked to Rome. Travelling alone the World Service was a close companion: its informative service kept me up to date with current affairs in countries where I could not understand native services, and its tagline, "Wherever you are, you're with the BBC" was a comfort to me when I was at my most homesick. These cuts are dreadful.

Joshua Bell, Calver, United Kingdom

As an Expat in Czech I look to the world service as a source of current, unbiased news regarding international affairs. Thankfully the Czech service isn't facing cut. What I am most surprised about is that cut of the Russian and Chinese services. These not only provide a great resource for Expat's in those areas, but also help British companies stay competitive by showing how flexible we are as a nation.

Ben Mills, Brno, Czech Republic

How easy it is to destroy something that took so much effort and commitment to create! The World Service has been Britain's greatest gift to the rest of the world, but I'm afraid the operative words have just become "has been." This is a very sad and troubling development. Britain's coalition government should be ashamed of themselves.

John Winbigler, Vienna, Austria

I would like the BBC Russian Service to remain with at least only a half-hour daily programme to European parts of Russia. Please, consider such a possibility. But if it isn't possible I will listen to World Service in English.

Valentin, Tver, Russian Federation

I read that the BBC-WS is to cease its transmissions on 648khz at the end of March: this will be one of the blackest days of my life. Internet or satellite radio cannot replace the ease of listening on a simple 10$ radio. I know, I am not a British taxpayer, so why should I complain? Maybe because, to me, "Britain" means more than some economical or demographic statistics: it's a beacon of democracy, and the BBC represents a broader view on the world and a refreshing voice of reason. Shame on you, Mr Cameron! I am truly gutted.

Henk Verdru, Heule, Belgium

These cuts will save around £60 million, less than one per cent of DFID's total budget for international development, which has been 'ring-fenced'. Much of DFID's expenditure is well-spent; a great deal is not. Most people I know in Africa and South Asia regard DFID as just another foreign aid donor, part of the system which they have come to despise, and they regard the BBC World Service as the remaining jewel in our country's crown. Is it too late?

Malcolm Harper, UK

Well, these are difficult times. I'm sure BBC knows exactly what is doing, it is sad but sometimes we need painful changes in order to keep on getting quality service for what the BBC is world known. It has always been the BBC who gave us here in Argentina the truth about our ever troubled politics, only time will tell about BBC's decisions.

Raquel Patrick, Buenos Aires, Argentina

My blood boils... most of the comments moaning about the cuts so far are from people living outside UK - who don't pay for the service. If you want it, pay for it. Axe the the lot and reduce the license fee and make some decent programs or improve the editorial content of the website. Let's show the world the BBC and the people who fund it are democratic... let's vote to decide what languages we keep.

Higgins, Macclesfield, Cheshire

It is wrong to cut the BBC services. BBC is not just a radio station, it is a way of life, it is part of life. I can't believe that one day I will wake up and tune 93.90 on my radio and fail to hear the BBC News signature tune. I think it will be a psychiatric issue, not after twenty years. No! BBC should find a way of funding these services even when the government cannot support it.

Kiprotich, Nairobi

During the hard times of 1990s when the only news you could get in Serbia was what state-controlled media decided to broadcast, my family would look to BBC for an undistorted view of the world. Nor was Serbia the only such case - all around the world, people are fed distorted stories tailored to promote whatever interest the powerful have. Now BBC is cutting off that audience for short-term monetary goals. Perhaps they will decide to come back to them in the future, but will BBC inspire the same trust it has today? "Axing the lot" as the myopic Higgins said will maybe put the BBC in the black, but it will also leave a lot of people in the dark.

Milo, Toronto, Canada

I totally agree with Higgins from Macclesfield and Tracy Webb in Singapore - the UK taxpayers are paying for this service which is enjoyed by people all over the world who aren't in the UK - so ask us to pay for it! I have been an avid listener since becoming an ex-pat. By far the most comprehensive and inclusive news service I've listened to - in fact, when I speak to friends back in the UK, they know less about certain topics as they do not listen!

Rob Hartley, Barbados

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