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  • A file photo from the Reuters archive shows journalists in the Reuters Newsroom at 85 Fleet Street, London, during the British General Election of 1950.

    A file photo from the Reuters archive shows journalists in the Reuters Newsroom at 85 Fleet Street, London, during the British General Election of 1950. | Photo: Reuters

Published 13 January 2020
Opinion

By 1969, the British Foreign Office was already paying Reuters for Latin American news reporting via a front company.

The British government secretly funded Reuters News Agency in the 1960s and 1970s as part of an anti-Soviet propaganda program linked to British intelligence, concealing the funding using the BBC to make the payments, declassified government documents show.

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As the BBC reported Monday, the Information Research Department (IRD), an intelligence section created within the Foreign Office in 1948 to covertly produced anti-communist material, led negotiations with Reuters in 1969. 

During that time, Reuters faced major financial problems and Western powers such as Britain wanted to bolster their influence against the Soviet Union by expanding news services across the world, the documents showed.

The news agency agreed to establish a new office in the Middle East, at the secret request of the IRD, replacing a previous agency called Regional News Service which was directly funded and ultimately controlled by IRD. 

Prior to it, the Foreign Office was already paying Reuters for Latin American news reporting via a front company, but it did not want to replicate this arrangement for the Middle East.

“HMG’s interests should be well served by the new arrangement,” said the document, which was declassified last year. HMG stands for Her Majesty’s Government.

Reuters provided news in English and local languages about local and world events, for reuse by newspapers and broadcasters in the region, with "a measure of political influence” coming from the government.

The documents said that Reuters “could and would provide” what the government needed, though the government officials conceded that Reuters did not want to appear to be taking orders or money directly from the British government.

Because of this, the secret government financing was hidden by increased news subscription payments to Reuters via the BBC. The amount was US$317,838 at current exchange rates per year before 1969 but then reduced to roughly US$129,000 per year in 1969-1970 and nothing in 1972-1973.

“The new relationship established with Reuters in the Middle East and Latin America can lead to valuable goodwill and cooperation with the Agency on a global scale,” Former head of the IRD John Peck said in the documents.

The plan was approved by Charles Curran, then head of the BBC's External Services, and later the corporation's director-general. Only two other senior BBC staff knew the real purpose of the Reuters deal.

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