Daily Telegraph – 20 December 2016
BBC plans to cut its international media monitoring arm are the "height of folly" and will undermine Britain's intelligence gathering, MPs have warned today. The Commons Defence Committee says the service, originally established to monitor Second World War foreign broadcasts, is a "vital tool" which is in danger of being reduced to a "hollow shell" of its former self.
BBC Monitoring was directly funded by the Government until 2013 when responsibility passed to the BBC under an agreement announced in then-chancellor George Osborne's 2010 spending review. The Committee said the move had "entirely predictably" exposed the service to cuts, with about 100 jobs set to go under a BBC re-structuring programme. Its 37-page report, called Open Source Stupidity, warns against the plan to move BBC Monitoring out of its Caversham Park headquarters in Berkshire, where it operates alongside its US counterpart.
The report warns:
"The Government uses open-source information for indicators and warnings of areas of instability and potential threats to UK security.
"The decisions made concerning the funding and governance of BBC Monitoring over the past decade or so have been woefully short-sighted and catastrophically ill-thought out."
Julian Lewis, the Committee chairman, said:
"The Coalition Government was warned, in the strongest possible terms, not to leave the BBC Monitoring service unprotected by ending its ring-fenced annual grant and transferring this minor financial burden to the licencefee payer."
"As one of our witnesses said, 'This is the height of folly'."
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'BBC NEWS MONITORING CUTS ARE ACT OF "STUPIDITY", SAY MPs'
By Sam Jones, Defence and Security Editor
FT.com (also, Financial Times) – 20 December 2016
Plans for swingeing cuts to the BBC’s global news monitoring organisation are an act of “stupidity” that will damage a service that is vital to British spies and diplomats, MPs have warned. New funding arrangements will result in about 100 jobs being cut at BBC Monitoring, the open-source intelligence service, and come amid growing fears over Russian subversion and the impact of information warfare on UK security.
The service has been in operation since the start of the Cold War and has allowed the government to follow breaking news in far-flung corners of the globe. It collates and translates reports from news outlets in 100 different languages from 150 countries and employs 320 staff. The monitoring service will be evicted from its base in Caversham, Berkshire, as part of the cuts. An American sister-service, Open Source Enterprise, will also be removed, jeopardising a longstanding resource sharing relationship between the two.
In a report released on Tuesday, Parliament's Defence Committee will criticise the government for its “shortsightedness” in not protecting the monitoring service against heavy cuts at noncore BBC services.
“The coalition government was warned, in the strongest possible terms, not to leave the BBC Monitoring service unprotected by ending its ringfenced annual grant and transferring this minor financial burden to the licence-fee payer,”
said Julian Lewis, who chairs the Committee.
“By doing so, it gave the BBC a free hand to inflict successive rounds of cuts, now culminating in the loss of the specialised and dedicated Caversham headquarters.”
Citing its “vital” role in national security, the Committee's report said the government should seize control of BBC Monitoring and reconstitute it as a “state-owned open source information agency”.
“We are deeply concerned that the proposed cuts will have a deleterious effect on the provision of information to the government and in particular the [Ministry of Defence],”
the Committee wrote.
Other parliamentary groups have previously warned on the value of the monitoring service. The organisation was an
“irreplaceable service to the intelligence community”,
the Intelligence and Security Committee has said. Funding for BBC Monitoring was originally provided by government grants to the BBC, but the arrangement ended in 2010, and in 2013 the BBC took full responsibility for the group’s finances.