Image from article, with caption: Gary Rawnsley fears that the BBC is giving ammunition to critics of the World Service, while others are worried about changes to the licence fee.
The future of the BBC World Service as a credible and independent news organisation hangs in the balance (BBC plans TV and radio services for Russia and North Korea, 5 September). It is surprising that the BBC would wish to single out particular countries, rather than languages, that it wishes to target, thereby conceding ground to its critics around the world who view the World Service as an instrument of British propaganda. These decisions imply that the service is connected to a political agenda – something that the organisation, and the World Service in particular, has vigorously avoided since its creation.
Most worrying is director general Tony Hall’s claim that the BBC has “a strong commitment to uphold global democracy”. The BBC has no such commitment, and nor should it. The BBC World Service has one commitment only: to provide timely, impartial, and accurate news and information for its listeners around the world. It is a model of journalism that is the envy of news broadcasters across the globe.
Tony Hall has tried to rationalise these proposals in terms of competition from other international broadcasters, such as Russia’s RT and China’s CCTV. The director general is conferring on these stations a level of credibility they do not deserve. Polling data suggests there is no correlation between expenditure on soft power, including international broadcasting, and positive changes in attitudes towards China or Russia. In fact, the polls reveal a reversal of fortune despite the huge investment in public diplomacy. In terms of credibility neither RT nor CCTV are the equivalent of the BBC. Tony Hall is worrying for no reason. In the competition that matters, the BBC is streets ahead.
Professor Gary Rawnsley
Department of international politics, Aberystwyth University ...