The BBC World Service will be overtaken by the Voice of America as the world’s leading news provider following huge cuts announced Wednesday.
World Service topper Peter Horrocks confirmed that five services will be axed — the Macedonian, Albanian and Serbian foreign-language broadcasts, plus English services for the Caribbean, and Portuguese for Africa — as 650 jobs are culled from a workforce of 2,400 over the next three years. World Service audiences will fall by more than 30 million to 150 million a week, according to estimates.
Jeremy Dear, general secretary of the U.K.’s National Union of Journalists, said, “For the first time the BBC World Service will no longer be the leading international news provider by audience size. It will be overtaken by the Voice of America.”
The pubcaster’s director-general, Mark Thompson, insisted that the BBC’s news services would remain the most used in the world. He described the 16% cuts, made as part of the government’s Comprehensive Spending Review, as “painful but necessary.”
Interviewed by BBC Radio, Blighty’s Foreign Secretary William Haig denied that the economies would lead to the demise of the World Service.
He added: “The BBC World Service cannot be immune from the cuts we are making elsewhere.”
The World Service is funded by the government’s Foreign Office, which will hand over the responsibility, and the cost, to the BBC in 2014. Its news gathering operation will be integrated into the pubcaster’s main news arm. In countries without a free media, the World Service is regarded as a vital source of impartial information, although critics maintain it’s a relatively cheap way for a post-colonial power to further its interests overseas.