BBC staff to publish damning report on planned merger of news … – The Guardian

Exclusive: internal concerns raised over effect of proposals as broadcaster seeks to make £500m in savings
The BBC’s plan to merge its two rolling news channels could suffer a setback this week when staff publish a damning report that claims the move will have a negative effect on news coverage across BBC radio, TV and online.
The corporation is also braced for the regulator, Ofcom, to make a key announcement about the proposal, while some charities have already aired their concerns.
In May, it was revealed that the BBC wants to combine the BBC News channel and its commercial global service, BBC World News, as part of a £500m cost-cutting and redistribution mission announced by the director general, Tim Davie, to create a “digital first” organisation. It seeks to achieve cuts of £285m a year necessitated by the government freezing the licence fee for two years.
The new channel will show news of interest to international and British audiences, with adverts only shown abroad and a UK “opt out” stream to cover big domestic stories, using reporters and a breaking news team, that will simulcast BBC Breakfast, BBC One bulletins and a televised version of Radio 5 live presenter Nicky Campbell’s show.
However, some staff claim the proposal to merge the £57m News channel next April will surprise licence-fee payers expecting their money to be used for rolling domestic news and drive people towards rivals including GB News and Rupert Murdoch’s talkTV. About 79% of UK adults watch TV news, according to Ofcom, but the BBC argues that young people are increasingly accessing stories via social media platforms such as TikTok.
They also argue that UK viewers will see fewer regional stories at a time when local newspapers are declining, and that merging the channels might muddy the waters between the BBC’s public service and commercial activities – concerns some politicians share and which the culture select committee will question Davie about next month.
Ofcom is due to make a statement this week about the proposed changes, which could delay the plans. Under the regulator’s rules, if the corporation makes “a material change”, it must carry out a “public interest test” and then get Ofcom’s approval. The BBC must also “consider the effect” on competition to ensure that its commercial activities do not distort the market.
According to sources, Ofcom has sympathy with the BBC’s financial plight, but some at the regulator want the corporation to be more open about how the proposals will work in practice as they think they could materially change the channel.
Staff, who are facing 70 redundancies, also want more details rather than the “engagement workshops”, “bespoke wellbeing sessions” and “‘in the moment’ telephone counselling” they were offered in an internal BBC email this week.
In addition, charities have expressed their fears to the BBC’s management. The interim director of BBC News, Jonathan Munro, responded in a letter seen by the Guardian that he understood “there are concerns … but … these proposals do represent the best value for the licence-fee payer as we invest in the most effective ways of reaching all audiences and build our resilience for the years ahead”.
However, a report put together by BBC News staff argues that with many other programmes and channels relying on the BBC News channel for content, it could cost the corporation more to replace the footage needed than the amount it will save by closing it.
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They estimate that, in addition to the News channel’s 8 million to 10 million linear TV viewers, its content is heard, seen or read online by more than 25 million to 35 million people a week – more if footage used by local radio, regional television and iPlayer is counted.
Furthermore, as one BBC News insider explained, “News channel content is invaluable” to BBC One’s 1pm, 6pm and 10pm bulletins, which sometimes “wouldn’t get pieces to air without the content the channel provides”, while BBC online uses News channel content “masses on UK stories”, but is often not credited. In addition, all the main BBC radio news programmes use News channel clips.
Ofcom would not comment on their plans, but a spokesperson said it expected “the BBC to provide a breadth of local, regional national and UK-wide news, as well as international coverage”.
A BBC spokesperson said the staff report was “anecdotal, contains no data analysis, and is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how BBC News operates and on the plans for the new channel. Running one 24-hour channel, rather than two parallel channels, allows us to invest more in our ability to cover breaking news across the BBC.”
They added: “We remain totally committed to covering UK stories and to a 24-hour news channel which serves the needs of UK, as well as international, audiences, even better than we do now.”


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