BBC unions on Tuesday expressed shock and anger over planned cuts at BBC World Service.
‘BBC bosses have announced that they plan to cut £2.3 million from the World Service News and Current Affairs department with the loss of 45 to 50 jobs’, said the National Union of Journalists.
The NUJ added: ‘The Corporation has said that this constitutes a cut of seven per cent over two years.
‘The news follows hard on the heels of an announcement earlier today of proposed cuts to the BBC’s language services in 10 countries.
‘Executives at the BBC promised that the unions would be fully involved in the process and that an initial meeting will take place on November 8.’
NUJ broadcasting officer Paul McLaughlin said: ‘Let us make it clear, we will not accept a single compulsory redundancy, neither will we stand aside and allow the quality of the service to diminish.
‘We will be doing everything we can to safeguard BBC jobs and drive home the point that already overstretched journalists cannot endlessly take on more and more work.’
The NUJ said: ‘The cuts will include reductions in staffing and programme length at The World and The Weekend World.
‘Posts are also threatened in programme planning and production support, which management admits will mean less commissioned material and more repeats and sharing of material.’
Earlier, The joint BBC unions – NUJ and BECTU – expressed ‘deep concern’ at the BBC’s decision to sacrifice important language services to make savings to fund a new Arabic television news channel.
A press statement said: ‘In the biggest reorganisation at World Service in decades, the Corporation is cutting ten language services. Countries affected include Croatia, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan and Thailand.
‘The move has brought widespread condemnation from within the UK and across the world as fears that a key force for challenging corruption and promoting democratic values is falling prey to purely commercial priorities and audience number considerations.’
NUJ Deputy General Secretary John Fray said: ‘The World Service is not a commercial concern it is a vital part of public service broadcaster.
‘While we welcome new services in the Arab world it should not be at the expense of high-quality services across eastern Europe.
‘At a time when British business, the Government and civil society talk about the need to engage with the rest of Europe, the Foreign Office should not be allowing Britain’s voice to be silenced in significant parts of the continent.
‘This is robbing Peter to pay Paul and there is deep concern that they are making a big mistake in losing valuable expertise in these countries.’
NUJ General Secretary Jeremy Dear said: ‘This is a bitter blow to BBC World Service staff and a step which has the potential to cause massive damage to Britain’s influence in a significant part of New Europe.
‘How can the BBC call itself a genuinely world service when significant language sections are to be closed?
‘We are told the BBC services are no longer relevant because of the emergence of new democracies in many countries.
‘Does Jack Straw really believe that countries like Kazakhstan, where intimidation of political opponents remains common and there is significant international concern that recent elections were rigged, no longer need the type of public service broadcasting offered by the World Service?’
BECTU Assistant General Secretary, Gerry Morrissey, said: ‘While we would normally welcome the BBC’s expansion into Arabic TV, we cannot ignore the threat of hundreds of compulsory redundancies, and will fight for the resettlement of any staff who don’t want to leave.’
Technicians union BECTU said in a press statement: ‘The cutback, which could take effect as early as March next year, threatens 283 staff with redundancy, almost two-thirds of whom are employed at Bush House in London.
‘Most of the cuts fall among staff working on foreign language services, either at Bush House or abroad, but 47 of the planned redundancies will be in BBC News, which runs the English-language newsroom feeding the World Service.
‘According to the BBC, which announced the cuts today, October 25, cash saved by closing a quarter of World Service language channels will be used to fund a new Arabic TV channel.’
BECTU condemned the announcement as ‘a devastating blow to the BBC’s ability to speak to all nations in all tongues’, and predicted that the specialist nature of the work done by many of the staff affected could reduce their chances of being redeployed elsewhere in the World Service, or the BBC itself.
‘While we would normally welcome the BBC’s expansion into Arabic TV without hesitation, we cannot ignore the potential threat of hundreds of compulsory redundancies,’ said a union spokesperson.
BECTU added: ‘Concerns have also been raised about the interpretation that overseas observers could put on the changes at BBC World Service.
‘It is clear that the transfer of cash from European language services into Arabic TV is driven by political objectives, and the decision will create a perception abroad that the BBC World Service is working to a government agenda.’
The BECTU spokesperson said: ‘Our union and the National Union of Journalists will stand by our members in the World Service, and fully support their determination to remain honest, objective, and editorially independent from the government.’
The BECTU statement said: ‘BBC World Service is funded by a grant from the UK government, currently £239 million per year, but throughout its history has fiercely defended its independence.
‘Unions now plan to open talks with World Service management, in an effort to avoid compulsory redundancies where possible.
‘A political campaign is also being planned, to persuade decision-makers that the creation of an Arabic TV channel should not be funded by slashing back other services.
‘Earlier this year, union members at the BBC, including the World Service, took strike action on May 23 against plans for nearly 4,000 job cuts at the Corporation.
‘Negotiators won an agreement that no staff would be dismissed, unless they had volunteered, until July 2006, and efforts would be made meanwhile to limit the number of compulsory redundancies.
‘Unions will now press the World Service to honour the peace agreement, and give staff threatened with redundancy the same 12-month guarantee as the rest of the BBC that there would be no enforced dismissals.
‘Of the 236 World Service staff affected by today’s proposals, 139 are employed in the UK delivering the 10 language channels facing closure, and the remainder work on foreign services abroad.
‘Services threatened with the axe are: Bulgarian, Czech, Croat, Greek, Hungarian, Khazak, Polish, Slovak, Slovene, and Thai. Additionally there are plans to rationalise the BBC’s Portuguese and Brazilian services, which accounts for 14 of the post cuts.
‘The BBC’s portfolio of foreign language services will reduce from 42 to 32 if the cuts go ahead.’