BBC World Service receives government funding boost

Peter Horrocks, director of the BBC World Service, explains what the extra funding means.

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BBC World Service is to receive an extra £2.2m per year over the next three years from the government.

The funding boost will be used to maintain BBC Arabic Service's "valuable work in the region", Foreign Secretary William Hague said.

The BBC will also reallocate an additional £9m to safeguard the Hindi language short wave service.

It comes after the government cut 16% of the World Service's £270m budget as part of last year's spending review.

In a written statement to MPs, Mr Hague said: "It is right that we should look at ways in which we can assist the BBC Arabic Service to continue their valuable work in the region.

"I have agreed that we will provide additional funding of £2.2m per annum to enable the World Service to maintain the current level of investment."

Mr Hague said although the original 16% cut was "fair and proportionate", he had reconsidered the decision in response to recent events in the Middle East and North Africa.

Additional investment

"We recognise that the world has changed since the settlement was announced in October last year," he said.

Analysis

The embarrassing headline which briefly appeared on the Foreign Office website - "Massive U-turn on BBC World Service funding" - can be challenged on two counts. It's not massive and the foreign secretary doesn't admit it's a U-turn.

William Hague told MPs that the original 16% cuts were "proportionate and fair". He says it was the subsequent uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa that led the FCO to grant an extra £2.2m a year to the BBC's Arabic Service.

The BBC welcomed the move but has played its part too. It has put £20m of licence-fee funds towards restructuring the World Service, so money can be released to save the Hindi service on shortwave and the Somali service. This may not satisfy those MPs who branded the cuts a "false economy" - but it's all they're likely to get.

Mr Hague added the Foreign Office was in discussion with the Arab Partnership Initiative to fund specific BBC Arabic Service or World Service projects which could create an additional investment of £1.65m over the next two years.

Earlier this month, BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten told the Sunday Telegraph he would lobby the government over its funding of the World Sevice, which will end in 2014 and be taken over by the BBC.

He said the Arabic, Hindi and Somali services are "core" to the broadcasting operation.

However, the corporation announced in January it would close five of its 32 World Service language services as part of its plan to cut spending by 20% after last year's licence fee settlement.

Radio programming in seven other languages including Mandarin Chinese, Russian and Turkish were also hit, while other services would be scaled back.

The BBC Trust welcomed the government's announcement, adding the reallocation of £9m of BBC money over three years would "mitigate the impact of recent funding cuts".

"It will also allow a small amount of investment in new activities, in particular on new platforms and in emerging markets," it added.

Lord Patten said: "I am delighted that we have been able to work with the Foreign Secretary to direct some more funding to these services. The additional money will help protect BBC services in the areas where they are most valued and needed.

BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten said the World Service was important in the UK's so-called 'soft diplomacy'.

"However, it does not mean that we will be able to restore all of what has been lost, and there will still need to be some cuts to the World Service as we have known it.

"We are determined that, when we take full responsibility for funding of the World Service after 2014, it will have the priority it deserves," he added.

The Foreign Office website initially headlined the announcement "Massive U-turn on BBC World Service funding," but it was subsequently changed to "BBC World Service Funding Review."

A spokeswoman said the headline did not reflect government views and disciplinary action was being taken.

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