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In a report published on the last day (March 31) that the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office has funding responsibility for the World Service, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee says that it has “clear differences” with the BBC on new arrangements for governance of the World Service. The Committee regrets that the World Service now has no direct voice on either the BBC Executive Board or the Management Board, and it says that it “remains to be seen” whether representation of the World Service’s interests at Board level by the Director of News and Current Affairs will indeed safeguard the distinct nature of the World Service.
The Committee welcomes the assurance given in evidence by James Harding, the BBC’s Director of News and Current Affairs, that the £245 million (€296m) budget for the World Service in 2014-15 will be used as a baseline for the following two years.
Sir Richard Ottaway, Chairman, said the Committee had always held reservations about the move to licence fee funding for the World Service and what that would mean for the World Service’s budget, and its ability to be heard amongst all the other competing voices within the BBC. “There is some good news coming out of our inquiry: the Director of News and Current Affairs made a clear commitment that next year’s funding for the World Service will serve as a minimum for the following two years. We welcome that. But what is really needed is longer-term protection at institutional level, and we continue to be concerned about the absence of a direct voice for the World Service on either the BBC’s Executive Board or the Management Board,” he added.
“The World Service does an outstanding job in projecting the UK’s values abroad. It is an essential part of the country’s ‘soft power’. We have yet to see whether the BBC will be the custodian that the country needs, and so we welcome the Foreign Secretary’s assurance that he will “hold the BBC’s feet to the fire” to protect the interests of the World Service. We urge him and his successors to honour that commitment,” he concluded.