Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

BBC NI axes more familiar TV faces

Mike McKimm

Some of the most well-known personalities on BBC Northern Ireland are set to disappear in the latest round of job losses.

Politics reporters Yvette Shapiro and Julia Paul as well as environment correspondent Mike McKimm are just three of the household names that may no longer be seen on screen as a result of a voluntary redundancy programme.

The corporation has been trawling for eight to 10 journalistic redundancies in news and current affairs.

The BBC has been forced to cut 20% of its £3.5bn UK-wide budget as a result of the freezing of the licence fee.

“The licence fee freeze has really hamstrung the BBC; as soon as that was announced it was inevitable that the axe was going to fall on news which has really been quite protected up to now,” according to Yvette Shapiro, who works as a reporter on the Sunday Politics programme and who has applied to leave in July.

She said: “I have been in journalism for 25 years, 17 of it in the BBC, and I had been thinking of a number of other options.

“When I inquired I found the package was quite attractive so, from a purely personal point of view, will provide me with an opportunity to move on.”

As part of the cuts, political teams have been merged and the popular Hearts and Minds Thursday night programme will be replaced after it completes its present run on June 21.

Its replacement will be fronted by Mark Carruthers (below) instead of Noel Thompson, who will move to present Good Morning Ulster.

The new weekly programme will include film reports alternating between Martina Purdy, Mark Davenport and Gareth Gordon.

Julia Paul, who won awards for her role as a reporter on the show, was offered a place in the newsroom but says she felt the end of the show represented a natural break.

Like Ms Shapiro she was offered a package believed to be calculated at one month’s salary per year in employment.

“It is a generous offer compared to what many people in industry are being offered and was more than I had initially expected,”

she said, adding: “I plan to leave in about a year. I want to look at other opportunities. It may involve working abroad.”

Others believed to be planning a departure date include Mike McKimm and Martin Cassidy, the agriculture correspondent.

Clare Delargy, a respected documentary maker, has already left.

While the package suits some journalists it has left morale low among many staff.

One insider said: “There is a feeling that the expertise within the BBC is not being used. The whole issue around Noel Thompson, for instance. He is moving to another flagship programme but why take people off something that they do very well?”

Another well-known BBC figure, who did not want to be named, said: “There are people who want to go now.

“In radio programming they are reorganising and it is a wee bit like musical chairs.

“People who thought they were established on a career path are going to have to board (apply) for jobs with reorganised titles over the next couple of months.”

A spokesperson for BBC Northern Ireland said: “The BBC is committed to consulting with unions and staff over its proposals.

“It is not appropriate to comment at this time on any possible changes or individual contracts.”

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