BBC World Service may axe broadcasts to Myanmar: report

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The BBC World Service could face drastic budget cuts that may force it to withdraw from Myanmar, a move that critics fear would be a "gift to the military junta", a report said Wednesday.

The Foreign Office, the British government department which funds the World Service through an annual grant, has told executives to be ready for a possible cut to its budget of 25 percent from April 2011, said the Guardian newspaper.

The BBC's broadcasts to Myanmar is one of several services that could be affected by the cutbacks, according to a diplomatic source cited by the British daily.

"The Burma office is up for grabs. It is a question of costs. It is very expensive and has relatively few listeners," said the source, referring to Myanmar by its old name.

The BBC confirmed it was in talks with the Foreign Office about its budget as part of moves to cut public sector spending but insisted no final decisions had yet been taken.

A Foreign Office spokesman said discussions were under way but refused to give details of any proposed cuts.

Britain's Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, which took power in May, is drawing up plans to be made public in October for dramatic cuts to public spending aimed at reducing a record deficit.

The BBC started broadcasts to Myanmar 70 years ago and since its establishment the service has covered independence, uprisings and years of military rule.

Around 23 percent of the country's adult population listen to the service, which is broadcast from Bangkok and London, according to the BBC.

David Miliband, foreign affairs spokesman for the main opposition Labour party, said that ending BBC broadcasts to Myanmar would play into the hands of the country's military rulers.

"The World Service is a steady, credible voice in parts of the world where the only other messages blend threats and propaganda," he told the paper.

"Scrapping the World Service in Burma would be a gift to the military junta, and an insult to political prisoners locked in Burma's jail for no crime."

A BBC spokesman said in a statement: "Like all publicly funded bodies, we have been asked to consider the likely impact of significant funding cuts and applying them to a wide range of scenarios.

"It is important to note that no decisions have been made."

© 2010 AFP

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