The BBC will be allowed to reduce its news output over Christmas and the New Year after Ofcom allowed temporary changes to its operating licences.
Ofcom has granted approval for CBBC to drop ‘Newsround’ between 18th December 2021 and 3rd January 2022. This is despite CBBC’s current operating licence not including a provision for the temporary suspension of news. Ofcom says it will be reviewing the licence for future occasions. The decision to permit the change is “consistent with previous practice”, according to Ofcom. The Newsround website will be updated on most days, except over Christmas and on New Year’s Day.
All BBC TV and radio services include a certain number of obligations, ensuring among other things that there is a minimum level of news provision. News provision is often the key differential between the BBC and commercial operators. During Christmas and New Year, it is common practice for public service broadcasters to run fewer news bulletins, reflecting a quieter than normal news agenda. However, some news output needs to be maintained.
On the radio, Ofcom has approved temporary suspensions of normal news output obligations on several services. News obligations on BBC Radio 1, 1Xtra will be suspended on 24th, 29th, 30th and 31st December. BBC Radio 6Music’s news obligation is suspended for the week commencing 27th December 2021. Meanwhile, the BBC Asian Network will see a reduction of its news output from 25th December 2021 – 3rd January 2022.
BBC Radio Scotland will be allowed to reduce its normal news output between 25th-28th December 2021 and 1st-4th January 2022. In Wales, BBC Radio Wales and Radio Cymru can cut news during the week commencing 27th December 2021. Over in Northern Ireland, BBC Radio Ulster is allowed to cut news provision during the fortnight commencing 20th December 2021. BBC Radio Foyle is able to cut news for the week commencing 27th December.
Ofcom says this is consistent with previous years, and that BBC News online will continue to provide breaking news through the period.
By allowing the changes, Ofcom says the BBC can make “optimal use of staff, including in light of the impact of Covid-19”.
Earlier today, the National Audit Office warned that BBC staff cuts were affecting the BBC’s ability to deliver local news. It said cuts may have contributed to the BBC’s inability to preserve local news bulletins in the summer.