Budget cuts force BBC to scale back foreign coverage


SIGNIFICANT CUTS to the BBC’s foreign coverage will be sustained following the decision to impose over £2 billion worth of cuts and 2,000 redundancies over the next four years, though coverage from Brazil and China is to be increased.

From next year, the BBC’s world news gathering department will lose £7 million of its £35 million annual budget, which will force the closure of some foreign bureaus and the hiring of cheaper local staff rather than British.

“It will mean by 2017, we will look and sound very different to the way we do now,” world news editor Jon Williams told staff by e-mail, though the mood among the corporation’s foreign team is said to be incendiary.

Over the next six years, 44 foreign posts – one-quarter of the total will go – though 22 new jobs will be created: 13 of them overseas on full UK contracts and a further nine on local staff terms. Coverage of Brazil will increase substantially in the run-up to the 2014 World Cup. “We intend to remain in all of our key hub locations, but in order to meet our aspirations to better report the emerging stories, we’ll need to reduce the size of our current operations elsewhere,” Mr Williams told staff.

Meanwhile, the battle over the future of the BBC’s local stations, including Radio Ulster, has begun, following growing disquiet about the impact of changes on their local stations. BBC London, for example, is losing one-quarter of its budget. All local BBC stations in England, which have up to seven million listeners weekly, will share a programme from 7pm-10pm, leaving breakfast, morning and drivetime shows unique to each of them.

Unions, too, have begun to prepare for battle. The Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union general secretary Gerry Morrissey said: “The proposed salami-slicing cuts to services will destroy quality, destroy jobs and ultimately destroy the BBC. BBC staff have been working harder for several years to maintain the BBC’s reputation against a background of a minimum of 3 per cent efficiency savings every year,” he said, adding that quality will not be maintained.

The National Union of Journalists warned that up to 800 jobs will go in BBC news, leading to cuts in business, sports, investigations and foreign reporting, while BBC Wales and BBC Scotland will each lose up to 100 people.

“The proposals outline 20 per cent cuts to 5Live news and plans to reduce the number of specialist reporters on local radio. Other areas under attack include regional current affairs programmes and the Asian Network,” the NUJ complained.