BBC to cut 450 journalists and newsroom staff

Hundreds of jobs will be lost as the BBC attempts to ‘modernise its newsroom’.

BBC HQ - reuters
The BBC's Broadcasting House headquarters will see major changes after the corporation announced it will cut around 450 jobs from its news division [Henry Nicholls/Reuters]

The United Kingdom‘s public service broadcaster has announced sweeping cuts to some of its flagship journalism as part of cost-cutting plans.

The BBC’s plans to “modernise its newsroom” will lead to around 450 job cuts, affecting Newsnight, Radio 5 Live and other news output.

There will also be a review of the number of British Broadcasting Corporation or BBC presenters “and how they work”.

Fran Unsworth, BBC’s director of news and current affairs, said there were “many people in this country that we are not serving well enough”.

The broadcaster is reaching older people but has been falling out of favour with the young as their viewing habits change. It took BBC Three, the company’s sole TV channel dedicated to audiences aged 16-34, off air in 2016, converting it to an online service and halving its budget.

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The BBC has to be “relevant for the people we are not currently reaching”, Unsworth said.

The plans for its journalism will mean a “reduction in the overall number of stories covered” and “further investment in digital news”.

There will also be a reduction in the number of films produced by Newsnight, the company’s leading political programme, which recently made global headlines with its interview with Prince Andrew, the Duke of York.

The BBC said Newsnight will “continue to deliver high-quality journalism on the day’s events and beyond”.

There will also “be post closures at 5 Live”, the sport and discussion-focused radio station, but other programmes across news, including Radio 4’s Today programme, will also be affected.

The corporation said it wanted to “reduce duplication” while making savings of 80 million pounds ($105m), citing the last licence fee settlement.

It said the news agenda would be “tailored to subjects that matter most to the audience”.

The BBC will maintain the ring-fenced spending on the BBC World Service, but World Update on World Service English will be closed, alongside other schedule changes.

Plans to axe Victoria Derbyshire’s daytime BBC Two news programme had already been leaked, with the host saying she was “absolutely devastated”.

The emphasis on digital comes as the BBC News website has raised eyebrows for some “clickbait” stories, based around viral videos and social media posts.

These damaging cuts are part of an existential threat to the BBC.

by Michelle Stanistreet, National Union of Journalists

The BBC said the changes “to how BBC News will work will lead to an estimated 450 job losses” and more of the corporation’s journalists will be based outside of London.

Unsworth said: “The BBC has to face up to the changing way audiences are using us. We need to reshape BBC News for the next decade in a way which saves substantial amounts of money. We are spending too much of our resources on traditional linear broadcasting and not enough on digital.

“Our duty as a publicly funded broadcaster is to inform, educate and entertain every citizen. But there are many people in this country that we are not serving well enough.”

She apologised for the “unfortunate” leaking of the Derbyshire story, saying “I can assure you nobody from BBC management leaked that story”.

The cuts come amid payouts to some female staff, with radio presenter Sarah Montague getting a 400,000-pound ($520,000) settlement and TV presenter Samira Ahmed winning an employment tribunal in a dispute over equal pay following years of being paid less than male presenters.

BBC director-general Lord Tony Hall is leaving after mid-2020.

Noel McClean, the national secretary of the Bectu trade union, said “the unprecedented constraints faced by the BBC… risks its future viability.

“It would be easy to point the finger at BBC management, and we will absolutely hold them to account, but Bectu knows that the reality is much more complicated – and that government policy, including decisions around free licences for over-75s, has led to the pressures that impact our members and audiences.”

National Union of Journalists (NUJ) General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “These damaging cuts are part of an existential threat to the BBC, and a direct consequence of the last disastrous, secret licence fee deal the BBC agreed with the government.

“This is before the impact of taking over responsibility for the over-75s’ licences kicks in. Against this backdrop, the BBC’s very existence is being threatened, with public service broadcasting under unprecedented threat.”

Stanistreet warned that if the government were to decriminalise non-payment of the licence fee, it would “serve to undermine one of the UK’s strongest success stories, emasculating a brand renowned and respected across the globe”.

Paul Siegert, NUJ national broadcasting organiser, said: “We have major concerns that the new ways of working planned across the BBC’s news division could lead to a fall in quality and would urge the BBC to ensure they are audience-informed and not audience-led.

“It is the duty of a public service broadcaster to offer something different rather than simply chasing an audience like their commercial rivals.”

Source: News Agencies