The BBC's World Service is too valuable to the corporation's reputation for its funding to be cut, a government watchdog has said. The Foreign Affairs Select Committee said the proposed 16% budget cuts for the service should be reversed. In January the BBC said it would close five of its language services because of the Foreign Office funding cuts. It said it welcomed the "support" of the report, and was committed to the long-term future of the World Service.
Committee chairman Richard Ottaway said going ahead with the budget cuts would be a "false economy". "The value of the World Service in promoting the UK across the globe, by providing a widely-respected and trusted news service, far outweighs its relatively small cost," he added. "The recent dramatic events in North Africa and the Middle East have shown the 'soft power' wielded through the World Service could bring even more benefits to the UK in the future than it has in the past."
Foreign Secretary William Hague said the World Service performed an "invaluable" role. "However, in line with all other publicly-funded bodies, it must play its part in reducing the deficit," he said. "The BBC has been clear that the transfer of funds from the licence fee in 2014/15 will not make the World Service's funding less secure."
Last October the government reduced the World Service's £237 million annual budget by 16% and announced the BBC would take over the cost of running it from the Foreign Office from 2014. The committee's report said "the decision was essentially financial" and "taken at very short notice, albeit with the full agreement of BBC top management".
The report suggests using part of the Department for International Development's budget to make up the shortfall. It also questions whether World Service funding will be secure when the BBC funds it outright, citing "risk of a gradual diversion of resources to fund other BBC activities".
In a statement, the BBC said: "The cuts being made to the World Service are a consequence of last autumn's spending review and the BBC regrets the scale and pace of cuts that have been necessary. If, in the light of the report, the government is prepared to re-open aspects of the spending review settlement, the BBC will be pleased to engage with them constructively. The BBC is committed to the long-term future of the World Service and hopes to reinvest when responsibility for funding transfers to the licence fee in 2014."
The BBC World Service is currently funded by the UK government through parliamentary grant-in-aid, administered by the Foreign Office. In January, the World Service also announced that programmes in another seven languages would be reduced. "We clearly needed to make choices," Peter Horrocks, director of the World Service, told the Foreign Affairs Committee last month.