Journalists who work abroad for the BBC become accustomed to fielding accusations of bias. They are particularly common in areas of former British Imperial power, and they are often reinforced by the accusation that BBC World Service is directly funded by the government. The problem is that some of it is. 

World Service is not paid for the by the licence fee. That only covers services to the UK. And, to people in the developing world, the relationship between Foreign Office funding and the BBC's international service often appears indistinguishable from the type of state-broadcasting they associate with propanganda.  It is not of course, but when interventions such as this one take place the BBC's claims of autonomy become harder to defend. Did the World Service pull From Our Own Correspondent for legitimate reasons, or was it censored? The answer matters to everyone who cares about the future of this beacon of editorial excellence. Should World Service funding change?        


It often comes as a surprise to members of the British public that there is one part of the BBC -- the one that most of the world listens to -- that is actually funded by the Foreign Office, rather than the licence fee.

And I have to say that I've never understood why it can't be.

Is it just down to that's the way it has always been done?

Well surely the point is that the hapless licence fee payers would not take too kindly to subsidising all those services that they cannot hear or even understand - so there has to be another way of funding the BBC overseas services. Over the years this has been the most remarkable investment by the Foreign Office in what Joseph Nye calls 'Soft Power' - demonstrating to the world that it is possible to have a robust and independent public service voice although it does appear that on this occasion the line may have been  crossed.   

Well I would say that there are plenty of parts of the BBC that I never directly use but I accept that funding works as part of the overall mix: easy to find examples: my selection would include local radio, Strictly Come Dancing and yes, the Swahili service.

I'd also make the point that the World Service is fantastically cheap: total costs are only £265m a year (in BBC terms that is not much). Most of that goes on the English language service, which you can in fact access from this country on DAB, Freeview, Virgin Media etc. There is lots to entice a British listener in terms of news and current affairs on the World Service.

I'd also make the point that BBC World Service journalists, including an army of excellent stringers around the world, feed into the BBC news machine in a big way. If, as a UK-based programme maker, you go and make a programme for the BBC abroad, these local language people are fantastically useful.

We would miss the World Service if it wasn't there and I'd pay for it if I was asked to. 

BBC World Service Impartiality