Former Director of BBC World Service: U.K. and U.S. "Outgunned" by Russia, China in Info War

Ukraine Protests - H 2014
AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky

Ukraine Protests - H 2014

Peter Horrocks says more money is needed to fund balanced local-language news broadcasting

Fears that the U.K. and the U.S. are losing a global "information war" have been voiced by the former director of the BBC World Service.

Peter Horrocks says Russian and Chinese state-owned news channels are financially outgunning the foreign language international service of Britain's public newscaster.

Horrocks argues that British government ministers should free up extra money for the World Service to combat Moscow-backed propaganda from the Kremlin's English and foreign language service RT, according to a report in The Guardian.

"Medium to long-term, there has to be an anxiety about the spending of others compared to what the BBC are putting into it," the paper quotes Horrocks. "You can take a view of the overall national interest and things we spend on international influence, like military spending. When you look at that, it would take it in a certain direction."

Earlier this month — before he resigned after 33 years at the BBC, the last five as head of the BBC's global news service, which broadcasts in 28 languages — Horrocks said the corporation had asked Britain's Foreign Office (FCO) if extra money could be found to fund programming in Ukraine, where demand for objective news has spiked in the wake of last winter's revolution, Russia's annexation of Crimea and conflict in breakaway eastern regions of the country. Horrocks says there has been no response yet from the FCO.

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Demand for the corporation's Russian-language service had more than doubled to 6.9 million listeners since the Ukrainian-Russian crisis began; its audience in Ukraine has trebled to 600,000 since last year.

"We are being financially outgunned by Russia and the Chinese, but there's no way we're being outgunned on the results [a global audience]. The role we need to play is an even-handed one. We shouldn't be pro one side or the other; we need to provide something people can trust," Horrocks said.

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RT, formerly Russia Today — the Kremlin's well-funded foreign-language satellite channel — is expanding across the world. It recently announced the opening of a dedicated London bureau and is recruiting British journalists who can expect average monthly take-home pay of £4,300 ($6,720), according to Sarah Firth, the British reporter for RT who resigned in July disgusted with slanted coverage of the downing of Malaysian Flight MH17 in a suspected rocket attack over Ukraine. Firth said she was sick of being used as a propaganda tool for Putin.

American anchor Liz Wahl, whose on-air resignation as Russia Today's Washington correspondent in March is now a YouTube hit, says RT understands it cannot reach the audiences of CNN or Fox News, but channel chiefs focus on "getting the message out."

"Stories must conform to a basic principle: Make the U.S. and the West look bad. In doing so, you make Russia look better by comparison," she said.