BBC's Application for U.S. State Department Funding Draws American Criticism

UPDATE: In April 2011, the BBC World Service Trust stopped vying for U.S. State Department funding for their efforts to combat censorship in China, Iran, and other countries. The Foundry reported that enough American public outcry at taxpayer money toward the possibility shut it down quickly; the organization did not even submit a grant application. The amount in consideration was around $28 million. American figures in journalism confronted BBC executives about U.S. government funding going to a foreign organization. Voice of America director Dan Austin referred to the ongoing activity of American media organizations, "We like to make the point that while we’re all for media development in countries, when it’s Nigeria and Burma, we have significant operations and a larger audience share than the BBC World Service as well as our own journalism training operation.”

The Guardian UK recently reported on March 20 that the BBC World Service has asked the U.S. government for funding to combat censorship in Iran and China. The U.S. State Department plans to provide an amount in the “low six-figures” to the international broadcasting arm of BBC in order to further develop anti-jamming technology and proxy servers that can circumnavigate these countries’ attempts to censor BBC content.

But the deal has drawn strong criticism from the American side. New York Magazine recently commented on the proposal, remarking, “Just wait til the anti-NPR brigade gets wind that U.S. funds are going to foreigners.”

Helle Dale, a senior fellow conducting research at the conservative Washington D.C. think tank Heritage, wrote on the organization’s website this week:

“The fact is that the BBC World Service Trust, a separate development assistance entity of the British government, actually already is the recipient of American taxpayer funding — as mind-blowing as that concept might be. ... Is the Obama administration and the State Department really so enamored of the BBC that it prefers the British broadcaster over its own U.S. government-funded and globally respected broadcasting services? So it seems. … If this is indeed the reason for these very troubling funding decisions, maybe it is time for the White House to ask the British embassy to have the bust of Winston Churchill back.

Blogger Thomas Lifson on American Thinker also wrote critically of the U.S. State Department’s supposed involvement with the BBC World Service’s anti-censorship initiatives. According to him,

“The BBC has a problem with political bias at least as bad as that of NPR. But that is no obstacle to shipping money, borrowed from China, to yet another left wing network. Don't worry: we'll just let our children pay for it when the Chinese come to collect.”

Although The Guardian reported that the deal will be formally announced on May 3—incidentally also International Press Freedom Day—Foreign Policy quoted Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner calling the article inaccurate and misleading and denying that the Department of State would be announcing grant awards on that date. He added:

“The BBC World Service Trust has indicated its intention to submit a proposal to the State Department in the area of Internet freedom, as part of an open and competitive solicitation, but we have not yet received this proposal or made any funding decisions.”

Two days after the initial article was published, The Guardian published another update on their site, calling the American response to the BBC application for funding “furious.” They revised their previous claim that funds would be distributed on May 3, saying that the State Department has yet to make a decision.

As of today, no corrections have been made to the original Guardian article.