BBC World Service cuts would damage UK: lawmakers

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Planned spending cuts to the BBC World Service would damage Britain's global standing and should not go ahead, a British parliamentary watchdog warned on Wednesday.

The broadcaster's performance during the wave of uprisings across the Middle East and north Africa highlighted its "soft power" and proved that cuts would be a false economy, the panel of lawmakers said.

The Foreign Affairs Select Committee launched an inquiry after the World Service announced in January the closure of five of its language services and that it was ending radio services for another seven languages with the loss of 650 jobs.

The cuts to the publicly funded broadcaster are part of government efforts to rein in spending.

"The value of the World Service in promoting the UK across the globe, by providing a widely respected and trusted news service, far outweighs its relatively small cost," said committee chairman Richard Ottaway.

"The recent dramatic events in north Africa and the Middle East have shown the 'soft power' wielded through the World Service could bring even more benefits to the UK in the future than it has in the past," he said.

Ottaway concluded that "to proceed with the planned cuts to the World Service would be a false economy."

The committee is tasked with scrutinising the work of the Foreign Office and its associated bodies.

The World Service is still paid for by the foreign ministry but from 2014 the duty to fund it passes to the BBC itself as the government seeks to slash public spending.

The broadcaster is seeking to cut its budget by 16 percent in line with the government's austerity measures.

The World Service plans to close the Albanian, Macedonian, Portuguese for Africa, Serbian and English for the Caribbean language services.

Radio services to be cut include Mandarin Chinese and Vietnamese.

The BBC estimated more than 30 million listeners would be affected, a sixth of its global audience of 180 million.

The parliamentary committee also criticised the decision to transfer funding from the foreign ministry.

It said a decision should be postponed until "satisfactory safeguards have been put in place to prevent any risk of long-term erosion of the World Service's funding and of parliament's right to oversee its work."

The report suggested switching part of the Department for International Development's budget to fund the World Service. The department's budget is one of those that has been protected from the public spending cuts.

© 2011 AFP

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