BBC management is accused of not being open with licence-fee payers about its plans for BBC News from next year.
Plans to make changes to its UK and international news channels were published in July. At the time, the BBC said it was launching “a new channel” to replace the BBC News Channel and BBC World News. Other commentators, and BBC News itself, referred to a “merger” of the two channels.
But BBC insiders say the change effectively closes the UK news channel and replaces it with a simulcast of the international service. Remaining BBC News Channel output, with news specific to UK audiences will end. The UK feed of the channel will effectively switch between simulcasting news programmes from BBC One and BBC Two and World News.
On Sunday, BBC News presenter Martine Croxall spelled out what it means for viewers in a series of Tweets in an impromptu Q&A on the matter:
The original tweets have been deleted after being picked up in various media outlets, including ours. However, we can still show you the original wording:
The changes are due to occur in April 2023 and will not be subject to a public consultation. As a result, the BBC does not plan to publish detailed information about proposed schedules and content.
Unions are consulting with BBC management over staffing changes. A number of staff will be made redundant, others will need to reapply for jobs in the new structure.
Different channels, different audiences
BBC World News positions itself as the channel that global leaders talk to and covers high level international news. In contrast, the BBC News Channel targets a broader audience, covering consumer issues and reports from the regions. This means the new service runs the risk of alienating many of its core viewers, uninterested in global policy announcements or less concerned about the financial situation in another country.
It’s the culmination of a decade of cuts at the news channel. Overnight simulcasts with BBC World News, introduced in 1998, have now extended to fill more of the schedule.
What viewers in the UK will see
The BBC says the ‘new’ news service will include a simulcast of Nicky Campbell’s morning phone-in on BBC Radio 5 Live. This will also be broadcast on BBC Two, to replace the current morning news slot. After the 1 o’clock news, viewers in the UK will see content targeting international viewers except at 6pm and 10pm, when it will simulcast BBC One’s news programmes.
RXTV understands UK-based presentation will end after the 10pm news, with overnight bulletins broadcast from Singapore and Washington. This is an increase on the three hours currently broadcast from Singapore (11pm, midnight and 1am). At the moment, the UK news channel opts out at 11:30pm for a second edition of The Papers. But even the paper review is under threat, despite having been simulcast on BBC World News on and off since the start of the pandemic.
Coverage of UK stories will be subject to an editor’s discretion. The BBC plans to retain some staff on a standby basis. They would be able to broadcast breaking news from a small back-up studio. But the BBC hasn’t declared whether this team will be on standby 24/7. It also hasn’t revealed what the threshold might be for a UK story to warrant its own coverage. For example, would the UK standby team react to a news story that only affects Scotland or Northern Ireland? Or would the editorial team decide to stay with the BBC’s international news service because they thought BBC Scotland or Northern Ireland should break into their schedules instead?
Meanwhile, Ofcom is currently in the process of removing the current regulatory obligations for the News channel. At the moment, the BBC News channel is obliged to carry more international news and more UK regional news than any other news channel. The changes are part of plans to reform the BBC’s operating licence.
It means the BBC would not need Ofcom approval to make certain changes to services and it would have no regulatory obligations with regards content on the news channel.
Iain Hatton, features writer, RXTV
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