Tuesday, March 14, 2017

BBC World Service staff say Hong Kong move risks editorial freedom


BBC World Service staff say Hong Kong move risks editorial freedom                       Plans to shift bulk of service from UK ‘underestimates level of threat posed by Chinese regime to editorial integrity’ as corporation seeks to cut costs 

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BBC World Service staff have condemned cuts to the BBC Chinese Service, which will see the bulk of it move from the UK to Hong Kong, saying it threatens its independence.

A letter is being sent to former BBC chairman and the last governor of Hong KongChris Patten and the Foreign Office to petition for support after the corporation decide to relocate the Chinese service off-shore to save money, but also because “competitors are outperforming us”.

Staff are worried the plan “risks undermining the UK’s long-term national interest “and so-called “soft power” and “grossly underestimates the level of threat posed by the Chinese regime in Hong Kong to both BBC editorial integrity and safety of BBC workers. to director of news James Harding, the BBC World Service head of language Liliane Landor laid out plans to restructure the Chinese service.

She makes a reference to the censorship in the region, saying: “We know that web-blocking and censorship have been a serious impediment but even in that context, our reach has been disappointing. Competitors are outperforming us. In such an important market, we have had to look at what we are doing that’s not working and try to address this.”
“Therefore we propose to restructure the team, basing the majority of roles in Hong Kong, where they will be in the right time zone to serve the audience, and in the best place to produce more original and relevant content.
She added: “The decision has not been taken lightly and is in no way a reflection of the hard work and dedication of our journalists in the service. This is an important turning point for BBC Chinese, and I firmly believe that this new strategy will enable us to deliver what we need to both the audience and the BBC licence fee payer.”
According to Landor, 10 new posts will open in Hong Kong and 16 close in London, while creating one new post each in London, Washington and Nairobi, so “overall there will be a net loss of three posts for BBC Chinese”.
It is understood around £300,000 will be saved from the £1.8m budget of the Chinese service. However, staff point out that the government has recently given the BBC World Service an extra £253m to help counter the “rapid growth of rival international news services from Russia, China and the Middle East”.
BBC Chinese Service journalist and National Union of Journalists father of the chapel Howard Zhang said: “People are angry about this, it does not serve the country well or the BBC. Off-shoring this service – chopping it at the roots and transplanting it to Hong Kong – is incredibly short-sighted.”
NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “Off-shoring the BBC Chinese Service will jeopardise the safety of BBC staff. Relocating journalists from London to Hong Kong, especially journalists who have historically been critical of Beijing as they strove for journalistic truth and integrity, just puts them in the eye of the storm.”
A letter from staff appealing against the move, which is being sent to Lord Patten, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Foreign Office says: “As the Chinese-speaking UK journalists fight to compete with powerful Chinese government media, in a fast changing media landscape, to have the BBC and UK’s voices heard in the Chinese speaking world, it has been stabbed in the back again and again by the BBC’s management.
“NUJ members in the BBC Chinese Service chapel condemn the off-shore plan as ‘cynical, illogical and plain mad’ during a time of increased Chinese media censorship, continued harassment and arbitrary arrest of journalists. The plan is ill-timed, short-sighted and simply wrong for the BBC and wrong for Britain.”
The NUJ also claimed the BBC has the “highest aggregate reach of any service” in the country and that it was difficult to compare it with rivals such as Voice of America as, “the BBC Chinese YouTube service was only launched in late 2010 with very limited offerings, while the VOA YouTube channel has been established for over 10 years. The VOA Chinese is also significantly better resourced, with nearly four times as many editorial posts (110) versus the BBC London and Hong Kong operations combined (32)”.
A BBC spokesman said: “We need to change the way BBC Chinese works to improve our reach and impact in China. In a fiercely competitive market, we need more first-hand reporting in China and cannot continue relying on content produced in London, nine hours behind the relevant time zone. We believe these changes will enable us to provide our Chinese audience globally with an independent and compelling news offer it can’t find elsewhere. They will also help us to explore new ways to circumvent web blocking and censorship.”
“While safety is always of paramount importance, BBC Chinese staff are able to report from Hong Kong independently and without interference from authorities, and we believe this will continue in Hong Kong which hosts regional headquarters and offices for more than a 100 leading international media organisations. The BBC faces challenges to press freedom all over the world every day – and this move will not change our commitment to impartial journalism in any way. “