The BBC has announced plans to layoff 450 employees in its news division, with a number of flagship shows and services being scaled back in a bid to save £80M ($104M) by March 2022.
The BBC has already acknowledged plans to axe BBC Two news brand The Victoria Derbyshire Show, but staff were today briefed on the full cost-saving proposals by Fran Unsworth, the head of news and current affairs. The 450 job cuts represent 7.5% of BBC News’ 6,000-strong workforce.
Under the plans, the BBC is going to pool its resources so journalists serve different programs and platforms, including TV, radio and online. The BBC said this was part of an effort to “reduce duplication,” but added that it will result in a reduction in the number of stories the corporation pursues.
It provided some early insight on how this will work in practice. BBC Two’s tentpole current affairs show Newsnight will scale back the number of films it makes and layoff 12 of its team, radio station 5 Live will also face cuts, while BBC World Service show World Update will be closed and five BBC News anchors will lose their job.
Unsworth told staff: “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.”
A number of BBC journalists live-tweeted the job cuts announcement, including presenter Victoria Derbyshire, who questioned Unsworth during the meeting about the decision to axe her show. With Unsworth setting out plans to boost digital output, Derbyshire questioned the wisdom of shutting down her program, which she said has “huge” online reach.
“We were NEVER asked to grow the linear Tv audience. Ever. We were asked to grow our digital audience – we did – our digi figures are huge,” Derbyshire tweeted. Unsworth told staff that canceling The Victoria Derbyshire Show was a “really difficult” decision, while the BBC has said that it aims to continue producing “the kind of journalism the show has been making.”
Paul Siegert, the National Union of Journalists’ national broadcasting organizer, said the pooling of resources could “lead to a fall in quality” and will put remaining staff under “more strain.” He added: “The NUJ remains opposed to any compulsory redundancies and urges the BBC to work with the unions in ensuring the staff who are at risk can be redeployed.”
The job cuts are part of the news division’s £80M contribution to the BBC’s overall savings target of £800M ($1B) by March 2022. In June last year, the corporation said it had achieved just under half of this savings goal, but it has warned that it will be impossible to protect content and services from further cuts.
And it all comes against the backdrop of an uncertain time for the BBC. Director general Tony Hall has announced plans to resign over the summer, while the broadcaster is bracing for tough talks with the government, which is threatening to decriminalize non-payment of the licence fee — a move that the BBC predicts would give it £200M ($260M) less to spend on content. The BBC is also facing unprecedented competition from U.S. streamers, as the likes of Netflix and Apple hoover up audiences and talent, such as Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
Michelle Stanistreet, the general secretary of the NUJ, said the BBC faces an “existential threat” over the coming months and years. This echoed a sentiment from Unsworth, who told staff that she can’t remember a time in her career when the BBC has been so under threat from external forces. “The BBC’s detractors and competitors in the media are scenting blood,” Stanistreet said. “The NUJ will do all it can to defend public service broadcasting and protect our members’ jobs from these politically-motivated attacks.”
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