LONDON (AFP) – The BBC World Service has said it will close five of its language services, in a move that will reportedly lead to hundreds of job losses as the publicly-funded broadcaster seeks huge savings.
Services set to be axed are Albanian, Macedonian and Serbian, as well as Portuguese for Africa and the English for the Caribbean regional service, said a statement from the British broadcaster on Tuesday.
The BBC said it was trying to make savings in line with a 16-percent cut to its budget over the next six years, part of stinging public sector cuts announced by the coalition government in October.
As part of this, the foreign ministry pulled its funding for the World Service and the BBC agreed to take over the cost.
The BBC website reported that the World Service cuts will lead to around 650 jobs from a workforce of some 2,400 being axed in a bid to save 46 million pounds (53 million euros, 73 million dollars) a year.
The report, which did not cite its sources, also said that a reduction of programmes in another seven languages was to be announced, without giving further details.
A spokesman for the broadcaster refused to confirm the report and said further details would be announced at a staff briefing on Wednesday.
Unions blasted the “ferocious cuts” to the language services, which were the latest blow to BBC journalists just a day after the broadcaster said it was cutting its online budget by 25 percent.
But BBC Global News Director Peter Horrocks said it was “simply that there is a need to make savings due to the scale of the cuts.”
“We need to focus our efforts in the languages where there is the greatest need and where we have the strongest impact,” he added.
The National Union of Journalists said it would stage a demonstration outside the World Service head office in central London when it believes the announcement is being made on Wednesday.
Jeremy Dear, head of the union, said that the “ferocious cuts to a valued national service are ultimately the responsibility of the coalition government, whose policies are destroying quality public services in the UK.”
The World Service currently broadcasts news in English and 31 other languages and boasts an audience of 241 million worldwide across radio, television and online.
The BBC is funded by the licence fee, which every British householder must pay to watch television and listen to radio.