BBC pauses job cuts dur­ing out­break to keep news on air

The Guardian - - News Coronaviru­s - Jim Water­son Me­dia edi­tor

The coro­n­avirus out­break has led the BBC to pause plans to cut 450 jour­nal­ism jobs, leav­ing staff who were ex­pect­ing to be made re­dun­dant un­sure if this is a long-term change in pol­icy or merely a stop­gap dur­ing the pan­demic.

The re­dun­dan­cies were an­nounced at the end of Jan­uary in a bid to save £80m from the BBC’s bud­get, with shows such as the Vic­to­ria Der­byshire pro­gramme axed and hun­dreds of roles due to go across the rest of the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

The direc­tor gen­eral, Tony Hall, told staff yeste­day that it would be “in­ap­pro­pri­ate” to push ahead with the cuts at this time but that man­agers would “come back to that at some point”. The de­ci­sion leaves the BBC fac­ing a fi­nan­cial black hole.

The tem­po­rary sal­va­tion of the 450 roles is un­likely to help re­vive shows due to be axed – and in many cases al­ready taken off air – but it could help some of the staff who worked on the pro­grammes, es­pe­cially those without per­ma­nent con­tracts. Der­byshire is in­stead at­tract­ing mil­lions of view­ers while con­tin­u­ing to present the morn­ing rolling news pro­gramme on the BBC News chan­nel in her old pro­gramme’s times­lot.

The U-turn means that many of those who had ex­pected to be un­em­ployed this year have now been asked to con­tinue work­ing as the BBC fights to keep its news pro­grammes on air de­spite an ex­pected wave of staff ill­ness and self-iso­la­tion.

One BBC jour­nal­ist whose role is due to be made re­dun­dant said the lack of clar­ity on whether this was a per­ma­nent U-turn was dis­tress­ing. They said those who were pre­par­ing for un­em­ploy­ment were now be­ing con­sid­ered key work­ers and asked to turn up to work at the BBC’s head­quar­ters to keep pro­grammes on air: “Speak­ing as some­one whose job is at threat, I draw no com­fort from be­ing told we are just go­ing to sack you in six months’ time be­cause we need you right now. Why should I risk my life and health to brave cen­tral Lon­don?”

The BBC has seen its stand­ing in na­tional life el­e­vated in the last fort­night, with enor­mous view­ing fig­ures tun­ing in to watch its news broad­casts. It has pledged to pro­vide ex­tra shows to ed­u­cate and en­ter­tain the na­tion dur­ing the lock­down pe­riod.

Keep­ing on the 450 news staff will add to the fi­nan­cial chal­lenge due to be in­her­ited by Hall’s suc­ces­sor as direc­tor gen­eral. He has al­ready had to de­lay the in­tro­duc­tion of the li­cence fee for the over-75s as a re­sult of the pan­demic, which will cost the cor­po­ra­tion tens of mil­lions in lost rev­enue. At present there are no plans to de­lay the ap­point­ment of the new direc­tor gen­eral, with in­ter­views likely to be con­ducted over video chats.

Tracy Bra­bin, Labour’s shadow cul­ture secretary, said it was now time for the govern­ment to pause its con­sul­ta­tion on de­crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion of the li­cence fee, which is due to fin­ish next week: “It beg­gars be­lief that the BBC should have to work with the fu­ture of their fund­ing hang­ing over dur­ing this time of na­tional cri­sis.”

BBC sources also said BBC2’s News­night is ex­pected to lose its own stu­dio from Mon­day and move into the News at Ten stu­dio, broad­cast­ing slightly later in a 10.45pm slot as part of ef­forts to keep the pro­gramme on air with re­duced lev­els of tech­ni­cal staff.

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