BBC World Service has announced an unprecedented round of cuts, including around 650 job losses – more than 25% of its workforce.
The overhaul will include the closure of five foreign language services – Albanian, Macedonian, Portuguese for Africa and Serbian; as well as the English for the Caribbean regional service – and sweeping cuts to shortwave radio broadcasts.
There was also further detail on the impact of cuts on arts organisations across the country when the Arts Council admitted that it would probably turn down 600 applications for long-term funding as it finalises its budget for this year.
The World Service is facing a 16% budget cut between now and 2014, imposed as part of the government's comprehensive spending review. Peter Horrocks, the BBC's global news director, said: "These closures are not a reflection on the performance of individual services or programmes. It is simply that there is a need to make savings due to the scale of the cuts to the BBC World Service's Grant-in-Aid funding from the UK's Foreign & Commonwealth Office and we need to focus our efforts in the languages where there is the greatest need and where we have the strongest impact."
These latest cuts take the number of job losses unveiled by the BBC this week up to almost 1,000, following Monday's news of 360 posts lost at BBC Online. More redundancies will follow as other areas of the BBC tell staff of their plans to meet the overall BBC target of 20% budget cuts.
The National Union of Journalists has called on MPs to conduct an urgent review of the changes, which it said would do "irreparable damage" to the World Service.
In a letter to culture select committee chairman John Whittingdale, an NUJ representative said it was "fighting for the very existence of a style of journalism that has brought hope to countless millions of people across the world".
"What will be announced … is nothing short of a tragedy," said the union official in the letter. "I hope that you will give us your full support to stop this act of vandalism."
World Service journalists and production staff will hold a "vigil" at the Aldwych entrance of its Bush House headquarters this lunchtime in the wake of the management
The BBC will take over the funding for the World Service when the current financial agreement ends in 2014, one of the conditions of the recent licence fee settlement that will see the corporation take a 16% cut in funding over six years. announcement. One World Service staffer said: "The World Service as we know it today will not exist in a few months, let alone a few years. It really will be the worst day in the history of the World Service."
Giving evidence to the culture select committee yesterday, Arts Council chair Dame Liz Forgan said 1,340 applications had been received by the Arts Council, which would be judged by 30 March with no opportunity for appeal except judicial review.
The Arts Council chief executive, Alan Davey, said he could not comment on how many organisations might go under as a result of the rejections, saying that some would be able to "shrink, recoup and come back" for funding next year or seek out alternative sources. He said the Arts Council would direct applicants to Lottery funding where appropriate.
Forgan said no organisation was off the table for potential cuts, including the larger London-based opera houses and orchestras, hinting that funding priority could be given to smaller organisations, particularly those working with young people. "Nothing too terrible will happen to the great established institutions if our funding to them is cut, but if we stop our funding to young talent then a whole generation of artists and audiences could be lost."