Entertainment & Arts

BBC World Service 'should be stretched', say MPs

New Broadcasting House in central London Image copyright AFP/Getty
Image caption BBC World Service has been granted £289m between 2016 and 2020

The BBC World Service has been set "undemanding" targets and should be more stretched to increase its audience, MPs have said.

The Public Accounts Committee added it wanted the service to reach more people via radio, television and online.

It also called on the government to confirm how much money it will grant to the World Service beyond 2020 so it can invest in new language services.

It has already granted the service £289m between 2016 and 2020.

That money is intended to help expand services and strengthen democratic accountability and British values around the world, the National Audit Office said in a report earlier this year.

But the Foreign Office, the BBC and the BBC Trust have not yet agreed on how the success of this will be measured and accountability arrangements should be set out "as quickly as possible", the committee said.

'Record audience'

Chair of the Public Accounts Committee Meg Hillier said the BBC World Service "will only prosper if it continues to adapt effectively to changing circumstances and demonstrates a commitment to providing value for money for licence fee payers and taxpayers in general".

She added: "In recent years the government's approach to funding the service has not been consistent and it is vital it sets out its intentions beyond 2020 if the service is to plan properly for the future.

"For its part, the service should be more transparent in reporting its performance and work from up-to-date data when planning its next steps in what remains a competitive and fast-moving environment."

A BBC spokeswoman backed the committee's call for more clarity from the government over funding.

She said: "Thanks to new funding from the government we are now preparing for our biggest expansion since the 1940s - we, like the Public Accounts Committee, would welcome more clarity about whether this funding will continue beyond 2019/20, so we can plan more cost-effectively for the long term.

"We agree we should continue to demonstrate value for money to licence fee payers, but we are unconvinced that our guiding principles of increasing media freedom and bringing Britain's voice to the world are best measured on a cost-per-user basis."

She added: "We do not accept that our record audience figures prove our targets were not sufficiently challenging, especially given the previous cuts to our funding and increased competition globally."

The World Service currently has a weekly audience of 246 million, up from 210 million last year.

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