BBC Trust chairman Chris Patten has promised to safeguard the future of the World Service following concerns raised in a report last week.

The report, written by former hostage John McCarthy for the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association, stated that the World Service’s integration with the BBC could take up to five years with cultural and budgetary tensions threatening to “drown out” international news.

However, writing in this week’s Broadcast, Patten denied that the service “was in danger of withering away at the hands of the BBC” - one scenario suggested in Broadcast’s leader column (16 September).

“Let’s be absolutely clear. The World Service has always been an integral part of the BBC, and this will not change. I believe licence fee funding will strengthen a part of the corporation of which we are all proud.”

Integrated World Service

He also addressed concerns that the change in structure and funding would pit domestic and international newsgathering against one another in a ‘battle’ that the World Service would ultimately lose.

“I really don’t recognise this view,” said Patten.

“As well as delivering a more efficient operation, an integrated World Service will ensure that the BBC can continue to offer the highest quality news and information to our audiences around the globe, and domestic audiences will increasingly benefit from the breadth of coverage offered through the World Service”.

Painful cuts

Nevertheless, Patten acknowledged that the World Service has undergone “significant and painful cuts” and speaking at last week’s RTS Cambridge Convention, admitted that some foreign news bureaux would have to be closed.

An International Trustee is due to be appointed to the Trust to strengthen its oversight of international news.

Broadcast also questioned Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt at the Cambridge Convention as to whether he would consider constitutional protection for the World Service, should any of the current concerns be borne out.

He replied that he would consider whatever protection was necessary for the BBC World Service but believed that that the Service would be better protected under the new arrangement.

However he added: “We can add whatever we need in to the Charter to protect it {the World Service}.”

See tomorrow’s Broadcast for the full Patten article