BBC cuts 70 Northern Ireland jobs and considers axing radio shows
Up to 70 jobs are to go at BBC Northern Ireland as part of a drive aimed at saving £7m over five years.
Weekend radio programmes Your Place And Mine, Gardeners’ Corner and Sunday Sequence may be in jeopardy, as well as shows currently aired after midnight.
Meanwhile, Stormont Today and The Politics Show could soon be hitting our screens in a different guise amid plans to “refresh” the coverage of local politics.
There will, however, be no reduction in hours when it comes to BBC Northern Ireland’s overall news and current affairs coverage.
Yesterday the BBC confirmed plans to axe around 2,000 jobs across the corporation in a bid to make annual savings of £670m within the next five years.
It comes after its nine-month Delivering Quality First consultation triggered by last year’s licence fee settlement, which froze the BBC's funding and its £145.50 fee until 2017.
Unions have warned strike action is inevitable if the BBC presses ahead with its plans.
The director of BBC Northern Ireland, Peter Johnston, admitted the next few years would be “challenging”. He said: “For BBC Northern Ireland across all that we do, it's about a 15% saving.
“Only a relatively small proportion of that in our plan is made in cuts to output.
“We've had the experience of the last five-year period, where we achieved a 25% saving and at the end of that period this year, our audience figures are as high as they've ever been right across radio, television and news. So it can be done, but obviously a 15% saving off the back of a 25% saving over five years is challenging, and I recognise that.”
Mr Johnston said that no specific radio programmes had been identified, but added that they “would be looking at can we close down at midnight and therefore concentrate on the broadcast hours before that”.
He also conceded that the loss of one or more of current offerings — such as consumer programme On Your Behalf — is “possible”. “We’ll try to protect the range of what we do and organise it differently,” he said.
“We want to plan a new schedule in those areas over this time period and we’re looking at changing the scheduling mix a bit.”
Of the 50-70 job losses here, between 10 and 15 of those are expected to be in journalism.
But Mr Johnston insisted they were not making major cuts, especially in news and current affairs.
“What I’m looking at is can we cluster our activity better or use new technology?” he said.
Proposals for politics include the “refocusing” of big-hitters such as Stormont Today and The Politics Show.
“We’ve currently got three teams working on those programmes,” Mr Johnston said.
“What we’re looking to do is bring that effort all together to refresh but still maintain our TV politics output.”
In terms of the rest of television, the director general confirmed that the broad range of hours on BBC1 would remain the same.
He added that, following substantial investment, BBC1 NI would be launched in high definition.
National Union of Journalists general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said it was a “watershed moment in the BBC's history”.
She said: “You cannot reduce budgets by 20% and pretend the BBC will still be able to be a world-class broadcaster.
“Quality journalism and programming is inevitably going to be diluted.
“If the BBC presses ahead with these changes then strike action across the corporation seems inevitable.”
BBC1: More repeats after 10pm and news summaries at mid-morning and 3pm will be stopped. Children's programmes removed from the afternoon schedule after digital switchover. Less money will be spent on sports rights.
BBC2: Fewer panel and chat shows. The daytime schedule will be filled up with international news and factual show repeats.
BBC3: It will have a “specific remit” to nurture talent for BBC1 and share more programmes with it. There will be “some reductions” in drama, music and entertainment shows.
BBC4: It will continue to show foreign language drama and films, make less UK drama and share more shows with BBC2.
BBC News: There will be a focus on breaking news and fewer features, special reports and coverage of arts and science.
How the cuts will hit...
Fewer panel shows These will fall victim to cuts on BBC2. Its most popular shows include QI, which stands for Quite Interesting, a general knowledge comedy fronted by Stephen Fry. Mock The week, a satirical view of the week's news, is a combination of stand-up, games and discussion.
Regional studios to be axed The BBC closed down its famed Pebble Mill studio in Birmingham in 2004 and now it looks like the UK's second city could be losing its major importance to the Beeb's production efforts altogether, with the possibility of the drama and factual departments being relocated to Salford.
Less spent on sport Sport programming is expected to take a 15 per cent cut, leading to auctions for expensive events such as Formula One racing, likely to be left for ITV and Sky to fight over. The cut to Radio 4 Longwave will hurt fans of Test Match Special's cricket commentary and Radio 5 Live will also suffer.
And more... ... old favourites With more repeats looking likely to be filling the schedules on BBC1, the Corporation is expected to turn to its prestige back catalogue of documentaries and comedies, such as David Attenborough's nature documentaries, meaning there's a good chance we'll be seeing more of the nation's favourite nature broadcaster long after he's retired.