LONDON — BBC schedules across TV and radio were severely disrupted Monday as at least 40% of the pubcaster’s staff staged a one-day strike to protest 4,000 planned job cuts. It was the first strike since 1989.
Big-name news anchors stayed at home rather than cross picket lines at BBC studios across the U.K. in support of the action by journalists, production staff and technicians.
News shows were most heavily affected.
The action, likely to be repeated next week when a 48-hour stoppage is planned, was not restricted to the U.K.: In Afghanistan, the BBC’s three staff members at its Kabul office formed their own picket line.
Unions claimed huge support for the walkout, but the BBC said almost 60% of its 27,000 staff had reported for duty.
Strategy maven Caroline Thomson said: “We are pleased that we have managed to keep a core news service going, although obviously we regret the fact that there has been a strike.”
Prerecorded shows and repeats filled gaps in the schedule, with news bulletins provided by skeleton staff.
The industrial action is being taken to protest director-general Mark Thompson’s plan to cut about one in five jobs, in a drive to save money and make the pubcaster more efficient as it negotiates the renewal of its operational charter with the government.
Privately, many senior BBC managers are uneasy about Thompson’s reforms, and even those who support them think they could have been introduced without such haste.
In recent months several high-profile execs have resigned, including BBC1 controller Lorraine Heggessey and director of sport Peter Salmon.
One of Thompson’s key lieutenants, director of factual and learning John Willis, admitted he was “torn” about the reforms, which will provide more work for indie producers.
Writing for British daily the Guardian, Willis said: “At Channel 4, I worked with a huge range of independents, and I am a passionate supporter of the sector. … On the other hand, I now run one of the BBC’s biggest production divisions.
“There is a risk that BBC inhouse (production) will be irreparably weakened. Clearly there is a danger of a ‘tipping point’ as large independents, smelling blood, circle BBC inhouse’s key talent.”
Willis’ huge department — responsible for docs, lifestyle shows and natural history blockbusters — is set to lose more jobs than any other BBC production unit.