An email from Peter Horrocks (pictured), the director of BBC World News Ltd. to the division’s 2,400 editorial and non-editorial employees asking them to consider, as their job appraisals approach, how they can help the organization increase its income has been leaked to British newspapers, raising concerns about whether financial pressures are affecting the public broadcaster’s journalistic standards.
The email, as reproduced by the Independent, gives staff four categories of Global News objectives for 2012/13: impact, income, innovation and integration. Predictably, it is the second "i" that is causing problems: the memo, signed with an informal "Peter," asks that BBC employees, including journalists, “exploit new commercial opportunities; maximize the value we create with our journalism.”
"Let us know if you have any ideas on how we can strengthen our commercial focus and grow income,” the email continued, highlighting the fact that “these objectives apply to all parts of Global News: editorial and non-editorial.”
“Shock at the BBC as reporters are told to start making money” read the headline of the Independent’s first article on the subject by Ian Burrell, which appears to have broken the story. Burrell's article interpreted the email as signifying that BBC journalists’ job appraisals would be dependent upon “their ability to generate money.” It quoted John Tusa, the former head of the BBC World Service (between 1986 and 1993), as calling the development “appalling” and warning: “If [Horrocks] pushes it too far he can start to undermine the values of trust on which the BBC World Service news has existed for 80-odd years.”
The story also quoted Michelle Stanistreet, the general secretary of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) as calling for the “outrageous” appraisal plans to be “dropped immediately,” before concluding with a statement from the public broadcaster, defending its honour: "The BBC's public-service mission to provide impartial and independent news will always take precedence over wider commercial goals and nothing in this email suggests any different."
A second article published by the Independent today took a slightly different tack on the matter, acknowledging that Horrocks is “under acute pressure to find new ways to ‘monetise’ his department,” and reminding readers that, “unlike journalists, who justify their pay through the quality of their stories, commercial directors are expected to make money for the BBC.” It emphasised that BBC World News, a subsidiary of BBC Commercial Holdings Ltd, is expected to deliver a profit this year.
BBC World News includes the BBC World News channel and BBC.com, the international version of the broadcaster's website, both of which take advertising, according to the Guardian.
It also includes the BBC World Service, the leading global radio and television broadcast which runs in 27 languages besides English, and has built its reputation on being politically independent, commercial-free and non-profit. The World Service is funded by grants from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which, after a comprehensive spending review by the British government last October, announced that it would reduce World Service funding by 16% until 2014. This translated into 20% annually off the BBC World Service’s annual budget and 650 job losses.
"Today is an extremely tough day for all of us but I assure you the World Service will get through this and continue to deliver brilliantly for our audiences. The task that we have is too important to fail," Horrocks said of the cuts in January, according to the Guardian. The BBC World Service’s Albanian, Serbian, Portuguese and Caribbean English outlets have been closed as a result of the cuts, and Horrocks lamented that the BBC World Service lost 30 million listeners.
Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has said that during her 14 years under house arrest, it was by listening to the BBC World Service that she was able to keep contact with the outside world. Last week, when she toured the BBC’s offices on a trip to London, she met with Horrocks, and her praise of the service was not without reservations, according to the Guardian, referring to its reduced output.
Photo Credit: BBC World Service via Flickr Creative Commons