BBC journalists are considering whether to strike over the merger of two of the network’s news channel teams, which will see up to 70 jobs axed.
Earlier this year BBC director general Tim Davie revealed that the U.K.-focused BBC News and global BBC World News channels would be replaced by one new channel called BBC News as part of a move to deliver hundreds of million dollars’ worth of cutbacks at the corporation. The decision, which Davie described as one of a number of “difficult choices” management were having to make, came after the U.K. government confirmed it would not increase the licence fee, paid for by the public, which funds the BBC.
The new channel, which will be based between London, Washington D.C. and Singapore, is set to launch next April.
However the merging of BBC News and BBC World News staff means 70 jobs in the U.K. are at risk, prompting the National Union of Journalists to ballot potential strike action.
“Members of the NUJ at BBC News Channel and BBC World News are taking part in a consultative ballot about what action to take in opposition to the corporation’s plans to close the channels and set up a new rolling news service covering U.K. and international news,” said Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary. “We may at a later date ballot for industrial action.”
“We are concerned because it will result in 70 jobs going, but also because it will cause harm to the news provided. The BBC News Channel plays a major role in covering local elections, by-elections, floods and droughts as well as covering breaking domestic and international incidents they happen. Many of the BBC News Channels packages and interviews are used across the BBC network, providing huge value to the licence fee payer.”
“We understand the BBC, after year-on-year cuts and freezing of the licence fee, is in a hard place but we cannot support a decision that will have a severe impact on the news provided. The BBC News Channel provides a distinct and important role – Tim Davie, BBC director general, needs to step in and reverse this plan.”
The merger has also been criticized by crew union Bectu, who count a number of BBC employees among their members. “Bectu will fully engage in every aspect of these proposals and we will be doing everything we can to support our members,” head of Bectu Philippa Childs said when the re-organization was first announced. “We will be working to ensure that change is not cost cutting for the sake of it, but truly does position the BBC strongly for the future and delivers the best possible outcomes for members.”
A petition has also been launched titled “Save the BBC News Channel from Closure,” which has attracted over 2,300 signatures. “There will be no U.K. content specific to the news channel apart from during short ad breaks or where a duty editor decides it’s worth mobilising staff and a small studio to cover a breaking U.K. story,” reads the petition. “Please sign this petition to register your objection to the BBC proposal to close down the service that currently serves U.K. viewers and provides dedicated, in-depth coverage of domestic stories.”
When Davie announced the merger in May he said the move followed the merging of the two channels’ editorial leadership teams. “Now we propose to go further and create output around a single TV channel called BBC News,” he said at the time. “We know there are stories which are key to U.K. audiences, but less relevant elsewhere, and vice versa – so not everything will be simulcast. However, there will be much more shared output and a fully co-ordinated approach. And we want to break new ground by creating output that can be simulcast on audio and video services.”
The BBC declined to comment on the potential strike action.