The BBC has finally issued a press release outlining the cuts they plan for the BBC World Service in order meet the government’s mandatory 16% budget reduction and those cuts seem pretty drastic.
In addition to job losses of 650 people, they plan to close five language services completely and end radio programs in seven languages, focusing on online content only. The BBC World Service is also beginning "a phased reduction from most short wave and medium wave distribution of remaining radio services." This will include shutting down their popular 648 kHz mediumwave transmitter, which can be heard in much of Europe. It will also mean stopping English language shortwave broadcasts to Russia and limiting broadcasts to Asia and Africa to two hours a day. Considering the political climate in Russia, this seems like an odd time to be ending broadcasts there.
It also sounds as though there will be even more emphasis on news, with two fewer non-news shows per day. This will mean the end of the programs Politics UK, Europe Today, World Of Music, Something Understood, Letter From…., and Crossing Continents. Considering that Crossing Continents and Something Understood derive from the domestic BBC Radio 4, I’m not sure why ending their broadcast will save much money.
The BBC estimates these changes will cause their weekly listenership to drop by 30 million people (out of an audience of 180 million), but unspecified "investments in new services" are predicted to offset those losses.
I’ve always felt that when the BBC World Service ended shortwave broadcasts to North America back in 2001, it marked the beginning of the end of shortwave listening in the United States. The BBC claims that rebroadcasts on FM stations have actually increased the United States audience since that time and that’s probably true, even though I think the type of listening is completely different. The BBC World Service used to offer all kinds of different programs, not just news, but music, dramas, comedies, soap operas, and even readings from books. Now it’s almost all news, and apparently there will be even more of that in the future.