The new settlement for the BBC is an ominous development. Ministers are shifting the all the cost of running the World Service from the Foreign Office onto the corporation. Mark Thompson would have every right to slash its budgets, and indeed is already saying that cuts are on the way. He may even have a duty to slash. Licence payers derive no benefit from, say, the Vietnamese or Cantonese services. They provide honest journalism to oppressed peoples, not to British taxpayers. The BBC is having to fund them because, of course, the government is desperate to save money. But there is an alternative.
The Conservative and Liberals have ring-fenced international aid.
Sam Bowman at the Spectator makes a cogent case that much of that aid props up dictators. The top five recipients of DfID government-to-government aid in 2008/09 were Sudan, Burma, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe, he says. “According to Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo, over 70 percent of government revenues in sub-Saharan Africa come from overseas aid. These governments have no need to implement pro-growth policies that free markets and improve their countries. On the contrary – the poorer they are, the more money they get from the West – aid money incentivizes bad governance and rewards corruption.”
Even if you find his analysis too sweeping – and I for one cannot see what’s wrong with Britain supporting vaccination programmes – you can hardly say that DfID promotes human freedom. The World Service does by treating subject populations as if they are free citizens and giving them information their rulers would prefer them not to know. Wouldn’t it be better if Dfid funded it in full?