Presenters on the BBC News channel and BBC World News are set to be sacked as part of a raft of 70 job cuts in the UK in a plan to create a single more digitally focused rolling news service.
The corporation, which suggested the proposal to merge its UK and international news channels in May, said that the new-look channel will launch next April and be called BBC News.
UK viewers will no longer be provided with a domestic rolling news service, losing programmes such as Dateline London after 25 years, and the new channel will feature a mix of international content as well as “new flagship programmes built around high-profile journalists”.
The plans will see a significant cut in the number of presenters who currently work across the BBC News channel and BBC World News, with fewer higher-profile on-screen staff set to retain the title “chief presenter”, while correspondents are to be given the opportunity for more on-air presenting time.
The BBC’s annual report lists names including Clive Myrie, Reeta Chakrabarti, Victoria Derbyshire, Ben Brown and Joanna Gosling – who combined are paid more than £1m for work across the BBC – as presenters on the BBC News channel. It is understood that 14 chief presenter roles are to be cut overall.
A spokesperson for the BBC said that the UK operation would see 70 job cuts, while 20 more on- and off-screen roles will be created in Washington DC. The new channel will be broadcast from London during UK daytime hours, and then from Singapore and Washington.
The BBC said UK viewers would continue to receive specific content at certain times of the day, and during certain high profile news stories, and there will be production capacity for a domestic-only broadcast stream for major UK-specifc news events.
“The way audiences consume news is changing,” said Naja Nielsen, digital director at BBC News. “Our aim is to create the best live and breaking video news service in the world – on our webpages, our apps, on BBC iPlayer and on our new TV news channel.”
The new channel will remain ad-free in the UK. The BBC’s annual report, published earlier this week, showed that staff numbers in the corporation’s newsrooms are at their lowest level in a decade.
Paul Siegert, the national broadcasting organiser at the National Union of Journalists, said the plan to service an international audience with substantially fewer staff while maintaining the existing high standards of production and journalism would not be achievable.
“Plans for a new channel covering both UK and world news simply won’t work,” said Siegert. “It was proposed before and dropped. We call on the BBC to again rethink this cost-cutting idea. It will be impossible for the new channel to have the same high standards of journalism that the two current channels are known for around the globe.”
The NUJ said that ultimately the number of existing staff losing their jobs could be higher than the BBC has indicated, and that the merging of the two channels would mean the 143 journalism roles being officially closed. While the corporation is creating a significant number of new roles, existing staff may not get them, and they could be in geographically unsuitable locations.
“The NUJ is also concerned about moving jobs currently based in London to Washington and Singapore and reminds decision-makers that BBC stands for the British Broadcasting Corporation,” said Siegert.
The BBC said the changes would create a “modern, digital-led and streamlined organisation that drives the most value from the licence fee and delivers more for audiences”.
The BBC’s news and current affairs operations, which have an annual budget of £314m, have been the focus of several rounds of significant cuts in recent years as the corporation has sought savings to balance real-terms funding falls after licence fee settlements with the government.
Earlier this year, the government imposed a two-year freeze on the £159 annual licence fee until 2024, which the BBC said will mean it has to find a further £285m in annual savings. However, Tim Davie, the BBC director general, is seeking to make £500m in cuts to existing TV and radio services to invest in digital-only initiatives.
Davie, who took over from Lord Tony Hall as director-general in September 2020, has overseen a slimming down of about 1,200 jobs to date and has said about 1,000 more will go in the next few years.
Nadine Dorries, the culture secretary, is set to launch a consultation on the future of the licence fee as the corporation’s funding mechanism beyond the end of the BBC’s current royal charter in 2027.
Dorries has called the licence fee “outdated” and “discriminatory” as all households pay the same amount regardless of income. She has pointed to “fairer” models used in other countries, such as Germany, involving linking it to council tax. Other alternatives are a voluntary subscription model like the one Netflix uses, allowing advertising, or through a general broadband levy.
The BBC will now enter consultation with affected staff and trade unions, while Ofcom, the UK media regulator, may wish to scrutinise the plans to substantially change the two existing news services.
This article was amended on 15 July 2022 because an earlier version misnamed BBC World News as BBC World. In addition, it is understood that overall 14, not 19, chief presenter roles will be cut.