BBC to cut back news services in cost-saving drive

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The BBC will scale back spending on its news services as the UK national broadcaster tries to cut £500mn from its overall costs in response to a funding squeeze.

In an announcement on Wednesday, the BBC said some cuts would come from the budget at flagship news programme Newsnight, hitting reporting, production and operational jobs. Other news teams will also face reductions.

The broadcaster’s news arm will aim to trim £7.5mn in total, according to an internal memo seen by the Financial Times, with 127 jobs expected to be lost and 147 new roles created.

The BBC said it would reinvest some of the money saved from traditional “linear” TV shows into content for its digital and streaming services, where an increasing number of its audience watch and listen.

The publicly funded broadcaster is facing huge financial challenges as a result of a two-year freeze in the licence fee, with a 30 per cent real-term fall in income over 10 years from 2010.

The BBC said on Wednesday news consumption habits were changing, “with linear TV audiences declining by 11 per cent over the past five years”. It added: “The BBC needs to invest in online news to respond to this.”

As part of the cuts, the BBC will shift more of its news teams and programmes out of London, the latest in a long-running effort to disperse jobs at the broadcaster across the country.

BBC news and current affairs boss Deborah Turness told staff: “We are making some difficult choices as we modernise our offer, closing some posts and changing content to deliver a net saving of £7.5mn.”

On Wednesday, the BBC’s acting chair Dame Elan Closs Stephens told a conference the broadcaster faced difficult financial choices but that “the challenge is to make sure that a leaner BBC is a better BBC”.

Dame Elan Closs Stephens, the BBC’s acting chai
Dame Elan Closs Stephens, the BBC’s acting chair, is a candidate to take the job permanently © PA

The changes announced on Wednesday include the creation of a BBC News investigations unit and the expansion of BBC Verify, a unit that fact checks and verifies the broadcaster’s reporting.

The BBC will soon enter negotiations with the Conservative government over the renewal of its charter, which runs until 2027.

As part of those talks, the government is set to come up with a range of options over how the broadcaster is funded, including changes in the licence fee and exploring a subscription or advertising model. 

Michael Grade, chair of regulator Ofcom, told the Voice of the Listener and Viewer conference on Wednesday he was concerned about the “regressive” nature of the licence fee but declined to state his preferred alternative.

Stephens is on a short list of names alongside former BBC executive Samir Shah to take the BBC chair job permanently. The appointment is made by the government.

She did not deny being on the short list when questioned at the conference, but said that there were “several names” involved and that it was a decision for Downing Street. 

Source: Financial Times

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