Page last updated at 17:21 GMT, Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Minister defends BBC World Service cuts

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Foreign Office minister Baroness Warsi has defended cuts to the BBC World Service budget after criticism from peers who urged the government to "think again".

Lady Warsi acknowledged the budget had been cut by £11m in the current financial year, to £244m, and will be reduced by a further £4m in 2013/14.

But she insisted the UK could continue to exert "soft power" influence through radio broadcasts and television and online world services.

The matter was raised at question time in the Lords on 27 November 2012 by crossbench peer Lord Alton of Liverpool.

He said: "At a time of phenomenal uncertainty in the world, does it really make sense to cut the BBC World Service by 16% leading to the loss of 32 language services, the loss of 650 jobs and an estimated fall in audiences of 30 million people?

"Shouldn't the government think again before savagely reducing medium wave transmissions to Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and Israel at a moment when the region is in total crisis and the voice of reason is in such short supply?"

The BBC will take over the cost of the World Service from the Foreign Office from 2014, as part of the government's 2010 comprehensive spending review plans.

Lord Alton said ministers should be celebrating the service's achievements in upholding human rights rather than "short-sightedly diminishing this country's influence right across the globe".

Lord West of Spithead, a former Labour security minister and ex-chief of naval staff, warned that "this absolute jewel in our soft power crown is being damaged".

Lady Warsi told the Lords the World Service "is and remains an important part of our soft power", adding: "We are known as a soft power superpower."

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