By Dave King
Reading Chronicle – 24 December 2016
MPs have voiced concerns over plans for the BBC to move its monitoring service out of its current Caversham Park headquarters. Earlier this summer, the BBC announced that after 75 years in Berkshire, BBC Monitoring would be moving from Caversham Park to London. Since 1943, BBC staff at the sprawling stately home have been listening in to some of the world's most seismic events, from Nazi Germany's occupation of Europe to the death of Stalin and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
At the Grade II-listed building, staff summarise news from 150 countries in 100 different languages for the BBC, translating and analyses news and information from around the world. But after a £4million funding cut, the remaining journalists, academics and translators are to leave Caversham for new offices in London.
However, the Government is now coming under renewed pressure from MPs to take back responsibility for funding BBC Monitoring. The Commons Defence Committee said the service, originally established in the Second World War to monitor foreign broadcasts, was a "vital tool" in UK policy-making, which was in danger of being reduced to a "hollow shell" of its former self.
Monitoring was directly funded by the Government until 2013 when responsibility passed to the BBC under the terms of 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 around 100 jobs set to go under a BBC re-structuring programme.
It expressed particular concern at plans to move Monitoring out of its current Caversham Park headquarters in Berkshire, where it operates alongside its US counterpart, Open Source Enterprise (OSE), potentially disrupting information-sharing with the Americans.
Currently, Monitoring covers 25% of the globe, while OSE covers the remaining 75%.
"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.
"A service that has the potential to be a vital tool in opening the world to UK diplomacy and business is in grave danger of becoming a hollow shell of its former existence."
The Committee's findings echo a similar warning earlier this year by the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee. The Committee chairman Julian Lewis said:
"The BBC's strategy for BBC Monitoring will downgrade our contribution to open-source intelligence-sharing between the UK and the US at a time when European nations must demonstrate to President-elect Trump that we are committed to paying our way in the fields of defence and security.
"As one of our witnesses said: 'This is the height of folly'."