BBC monitoring should be paid for by government say MPs

BBC Pacific Quay. Picture; John Devlin
BBC Pacific Quay. Picture; John Devlin
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The Government is being urged by MPs to take back responsibility for funding BBC Monitoring to stave off planned cutbacks.

The Commons Foreign Affairs Committee said the service - originally founded in 1939 to monitor Second World War propaganda - was one of the Foreign Office’s “key sources of information” and should be paid for by the taxpayer.

Under the terms of agreement announced in then chancellor George Osborne’s 2010 spending review, responsibility for funding Monitoring passed from the Government to the BBC in 2013.

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However a £4 million shortfall in the finances means it is now facing the loss of 96 staff with the closure of 40% of its posts in the UK and 20% of those abroad.

The committee said the transfer of responsibility for funding the service had been taken for “presentational” reasons and should be reversed.

“The Foreign and Commonwealth Office needs to be the eyes and ears of the UK abroad, picking up signals and undercurrents which help to indicate where the tide is flowing, spotting where threats to the UK’s security and other interests may surface, and helping to form policy on how the UK should handle those threats.

“BBC Monitoring is one of its key sources of information,” it said.

“The taxpayer is the main beneficiary of BBC Monitoring’s work, not the licence fee payer; and logically the taxpayer should fund it.

“There is no good reason why the Government should expect to have the benefit of a product which is key to policy-making without providing funding for it.”

A BBC spokesperson said: “We welcome the Committee’s support for BBC Monitoring’s work. We are confident we can continue to meet the Government’s needs after our restructure, which we think is essential to equip BBC Monitoring for the twenty-first century. We will continue to honour the licence fee agreement from 2010. However, if the UK Government decided there would benefits in offering additional direct funding to BBC Monitoring, we would be happy to consider this.”