Nation speaking peace unto nation

Mark Thompson outlines the BBC's global mission, with cuts to its international services looming.
Mark Thompson
12 May 2010

Quality picks up after a minute or so - apologies

Commentary by Daniel-Joseph MacArthur-Seal

I had the novel experience yesterday of being read the news of Gordon Brown's resignation by the director general of the BBC, Mark Thompson. Neutrality was, of course, maintained but there can be little doubt that the new government that Brown's exit has ushered in is a cause of some consternation to Thompson and others at the BBC.

The BBC's international arms, and in particular the commercial companies BBC Worldwide and BBC Monitoring have been threatened with privatisation. Worldwide's activities are curtailed under the proposed Strategy Review. BBC World Service, the international and multilingual radio service funded by Foreign and Commonwealth Office Grants is likely to be subject to further cuts. The fate of BBC World News, the advertising-funded satellite television channel, and BBC World Service Trust, the BBC's international charity, BBC Arabic Television and BBC Persian Television is uncertain.

Thompson's talk at Chatham House anticipated the coming storm, making the case for the value of the BBC's global activities. The dilemma for anyone trying to justify Foreign Office-funded broadcasting is that a defence of the BBC's value to the British government does not conflict with the BBC's avowed neutrality. If the net effect of the BBC's output, however neutral, is to benefit British interests, then those with contrary aims can only be expected to launch counter-measures.

The BBC negotiation of foreign government's opposition, ranging from full scale banning to restrictions on reporters' movements to the creation of technical difficulties, is a tight-rope act. Imitation of the BBC, by the Saudi (Al Arabiya), Iranian (Press TV), Qatari (Al Jazeera), American (Al Hurra, Voice of America) and French (France 24) governments, is no doubt a form of flattery, but as more governments bring their nations to the world the chances of a discrediting competition for viewers and influence determined by sponsor-states' relations with the audience increases.

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