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Government should fund BBC Monitoring, not the licence fee payer, say MPs

30 October 2016

It was a mistake to end government funding for BBC Monitoring in 2013 and that change should be reversed, said MPs on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Its report on the future operations of BBC Monitoring, MPs said BBC Monitoring is vital to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s scrutiny of developing events across the world.

Highly valued by the Government, the service translates  and analyses news and information from freely available media sources in more  than 100 languages and covering 150 countries.

Triggered by a shortfall of £4m in funding, the BBC has agreed an extensive restructure of the service, which has resulted in cutting 40 per cent of BBC Monitoring posts in the UK and 20 per cent of posts abroad, and relocation of the service from Caversham to London.

The government is the prime customer for the service. The Foreign Affairs Committee said it believed the government should restore funding for open source monitoring of media sources overseas, whether they pay BBC Monitoring or carry out the work themselves.

Crispin Blunt MP, committee chair, said:

“BBC Monitoring is a highly regarded organisation whose work is more important than ever. These cuts to BBC Monitoring, proposed by the BBC, are simply not in the interest of the UK government.  They will not help the FCO improve its performance in detecting trends and undercurrents overseas that have  implications for UK policy – something it notably failed to do in Libya, for instance. Given the vast increase in social media output, this kind of monitoring is more important than ever.
“Other countries with similar operations fund them from central government. The principal benefit of the output of BBC Monitoring is better-informed government policy, which is why the government should fund it, not the licence fee payer. It’s notable that in the face of these cuts, government departments are in the process of recreating this capability internally. This should not be necessary and we should be bolstering the work of BBC Monitoring, not cutting it.”

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:

“The foreign affairs committee rightly identifies the serious damage to BBC Monitoring done by loss of 98 highly-talented, expert journalists and linguists. As the UK faces unprecedented uncertainty following Brexit, as tensions between Russia and the West increase and so-called ISIS spreads terror around the world, the government is  in greater need than ever of an extensive and well-resourced monitoring service; and it needs to pay for it.
"The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Ministry of Defence, Department for International Development and Cabinet Office could easily share the costs. It should be the tax payer, not the BBC licence fee payer, who should fund this vital national interest service.”

Stuart Seaman, NUJ FoC for BBC Monitoring, said:

“The committee confirms what the union has always said: the withdrawal of government funding from BBC Monitoring was a mistake. It saved pennies in the short term, but diminished an important national-security resource in the long term. The government should heed the committee and undo that mistake. It should be investing in Monitoring and recognise  that this team of expert, multilingual and diverse journalists cannot be replaced if it allows the service to wither on the vine.”

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Tags: , bbc, bbc monitoring, redundancies, cuts, foreign affairs committee, ministry of defence, difd, foreign office, foreign and commonwealth office, cabinet office, parliament uk