Globe, millions of people who don't trust their...


September 02, 1996

ACROSS THE globe, millions of people who don't trust their own government media believe the BBC. It is the Free World's most potent weapon against any "ism," the envy of other broadcasters and the most potent force in projecting British influence in a post-imperial world. Britain ought to be trying to strengthen the World Service of the British Broadcasting Corp. Instead, Britain is planning to dismantle it.

The World Service is run with its own correspondents, production and bureaucracy separate from the BBC domestic organization. This is expensive. The British government has been scrimping and downsizing services for its own people. It has long since ended the monopoly of the BBC in domestic broadcasting and continually presses it to be lean and market oriented.

The World Service has been funded by the government handing the money to the Foreign Office which hands it to the BBC, so that no one is in doubt as to its reason for existence. The strapped Foreign Office has cut back its subsidy. The corporation responded with a plan to rationalize the World Service news and features into domestic production. The outraged Foreign Office was caught off guard.

The trust and respect accorded the BBC World Service grew out of its World War II performance. It succeed because it told the news straight. That tradition has continued. Its ability to do this stemmed from the BBC's origin as a government monopoly giving the British people what was good and uplifting, not what a commercial company would think they wanted. The first news announcers were required to wear formal attire when broadcasting so as to project the proper dignity.

The "Campaign to Save the World Service" deserves sympathy. But it might heed the advice of the Economist magazine and urge total independence of the BBC to be paid for by advertising or donations. The BBC World Service's quality and reputation ought to be saved. Going on as things were may never have been one of the options.

Pub Date: 9/02/96

The world needs the BBC; Changes in store: Cost-cutting

threatens the most trusted radio news service.

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