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BBC World Service Head Pledges to Keep Government at Arm's Length

BBC workers place barriers near to the main entrance of the BBC headquarters and studios in Portland Place, London, Britain.

The head of the BBC World Service said she is determined that a major funding injection from the government will not be allowed to compromise the broadcaster's independence as it expands into countries including Russia and North Korea.

Five years ago, the government announced that as a cost-cutting measure it would no longer fund the World Service.

But in a defense review last month it changed tack and pledged 289 million pounds ($433.5 million) of government money over five years.

"We aim to be the leading soft-power nation, using our resources to build the relationships that can project and enhance our influence in the world," the review said.

In a phone-in on the BBC website, Fran Unsworth, director of the World Service Group, was asked whether the new government money might affect the independence and journalistic credibility of the World Service.

"The answer to that question is 'no', she said. "We're determined that that should not be the case."

The money will fund an expansion of BBC services to North Korea, Russian-speaking areas, the Middle East and Africa even as Prime Minister David Cameron's government cuts spending on conventional diplomatic channels.

"It's important to say that we were the ones that came up with all these proposals, it wasn't the government coming to us," she said. "So although the money is coming to us from the government, the strategy on how we spend it has been ours."

The BBC World Service was founded in 1932 as a radio channel for English speakers in the various outposts of the British empire. It is now the world's largest international broadcaster, transmitting to 29 countries from London.

Unsworth said it could not have continued its expansion plans without government money.

"That's why we were keen to explore with the government as to whether they would pick up the cost of doing more.

"It's just back to the future a bit and I don't think that in any way affects our mission, and I don't think the government has any intention of swaying us off that course."