The 83-year-old BBC World Service is at serious risk of being “marginalized” due to government spending cuts and the threat posed by international competitiors such as Al Jazeera and Russia Today, a new report has warned.
The Future of News report, commissioned by the BBC, said the World Service was faced with two choices – growth or “managed marginalization” and appealed for the government to fund it.
Since April 2014, the Service has been scrambling for a piece of the British License Fee after the Foreign Office ceased funding. Whilst it generates plenty more revenues through programmes such as Top Gear, the new report appeals for state funding to be re-instated if the Service is to remain “valued”.
“If the UK wants the BBC to remain valued and respected, an ambassador of Britain’s values and an agent of soft power in the world, then the BBC is going to have to commit to growing the World Service and the government will also have to recognise this,” the report states.
“The BBC will need to ask itself if it has the resources to compete in global markets and invest in digital (media). The BBC will have to consider whether the combination of licence fee funding and advertising revenue is sufficient to meet the requirements of reporting the world for the world.”
The report added that the funding was most important due to stiff competition from state-sponsored broadcasters in China, Russia and Qatar as well as commercial outfits who cater to specific audience groups such as US broadcaster Fox News.
“Countries are investing in their international channels in ways we cannot match, but none has our values and our ability to investigate any story no matter how difficult.
There is a deepening global tilt towards news focused or aggregated around a world view: political Islam, evangelical Christianity, nationalism, patriotism and so on.
“While these are very different and varied phenomena, in such communities of interest shared values become a new brand loyalty. Al Jazeera in Arabic sees itself as serving an audience that is conservative and Muslim. For the station and its audience, common religious assumptions give a sense of belonging which can bleed into shared views on political, economic and especially cultural questions.
“Similarly, Fox News articulates a very specific view of what it is to be an American.”
The report cited the closure of language services as well as broadcasts in foreign languages as one of the reasons for the Service’s’ waning influence.