The British government announced today that it will boost funding for the BBC’s Arabic Service in recognition of its “valuable work” during the political turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa. In a written statement to parliament, Foreign Secretary William Hague said the Foreign Office would provide an additional £2.2 million (2.5 million euros, $3.6 million) a year.

It comes just eight months after ministers slashed the World Service’s budget by 16 percent over three years as part of government-wide savings to reduce the deficit, forcing it to close services and cut 650 jobs.

“We recognise that the world has changed since the settlement was announced in October last year - indeed since the World Service announced the subsequent changes to services, including some closures, on 26 January,” Hague said. He added: “It is right that we should look at ways in which we can assist the BBC Arabic Service to continue their valuable work in the region. So I have agreed that we will provide additional funding of £2.2 million per annum to enable the World Service to maintain the current level of investment in the BBC Arabic Service.”

The Foreign Office will also look at providing funding for specific projects proposed by the BBC “which are designed to support the development of the media and wider civic society in the Middle East and North Africa region”, he said. Up to £1.65 million is available over the next two years.

In April, lawmakers on parliament’s foreign affairs committee said the World Service’s performance during a wave of uprisings in the region highlighted how Britain could wield “soft power”, and said any cuts would be a “false economy”. The World Service has traditionally received its funding from the Foreign Office, although this will end in 2014, when the BBC will take over funding the service as part of the deal struck this year with the government.

(Source: AFP)

The BBC Trust has today welcomed the Foreign Secretary’s announcement that an additional £2.2m per year will be provided to the BBC World Service over the next three years. Separately, the BBC Trust has approved the reallocation of £9m of existing World Service funding to editorial investment over three years, to mitigate the impact of recent funding cuts, following lower-than-expected restructuring costs and pension contributions.

Together, this additional funding will help provide support to some priority frontline services, including sustaining the Hindi shortwave service, the Somali service and services for the Arab world. It will also allow a small amount of investment in new activities, in particular on new platforms and in emerging markets. The BBC is currently working on the detail of how this funding will be allocated.

Lord Patten, Chairman of the BBC Trust said: “As Aung San Suu Kyi said only this week, the World Service is a lifeline for those hungry for unbiased news and information about their country and the wider world. It is also an export for British values of fairness, accuracy and impartiality. I am delighted that we have been able to work with the Foreign Secretary to direct some more funding to these services. The additional money will help protect BBC services in the areas where they are most valued and needed.

“However, it does not mean that we will be able to restore all of what has been lost, and there will still need to be some cuts to the World Service as we have known it. We are determined that when we take full responsibility for funding of the World Service after 2014, it will have the priority it deserves.”

In the Government’s Spending Review in October 2010, the World Service’s Grant in Aid from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was reduced by 16 per cent. Taking account of the additional funding announced today, the BBC will still need to reduce spend on the World Service by £42m per annum by 2013/14 (compared with 2010/11).

(Source: BBC Trust)