BBC announces about 400 job losses at World Service

BBC headquarters. [Reuters]

BBC World Service has today announced a cost-cutting programme that will see nearly 400 of its staff lose their jobs.

Director Liliane Landor in a statement said this is in line with the broadcasters’ vision to move its services to the digital platform.

This involves the creation of a centralised digital-first commissioning and newsgathering content production hub to create high-impact content for distribution across all non-English language services.

In July the London-based broadcaster detailed plans to merge BBC World News television and its domestic UK equivalent into a single channel to be launched in April next year.

BBC World Service currently operates in 40 languages around the world with a weekly audience of some 364 million people.

But the corporation said audience habits were changing and more people were accessing news online, which along with a freeze on BBC funding and increased operating costs meant a move to "digital-first" made financial sense.

"Today's proposals entail a net total of around 382 post closures," it said in an online statement.

Landor said the proposals will see seven more language services moving to digital only, modelling the success of others which are already offering purely digital services and performing well with audiences.

This she said means that nearly half of all 41 language services will be digital only.

She said BBC World Service will continue to operate in all the languages and countries where it is currently present, including the new languages added during its expansion in 2016. No language services will close.

However, some TV and radio programmes will stop under the new plans including BBC Arabic radio and BBC Persian radio which will cease.

“BBC World Service will continue to serve audiences during moments of jeopardy and will ensure audiences in countries such as Russia, Ukraine and Afghanistan have access to vital news services, using appropriate broadcast and distribution platforms,” she said.

According to her, the World Service has already achieved record levels of growth on digital platforms, currently reaching 148m people in an average week.

The digital share of World Service Languages reach has more than doubled, from 19 percent to 43 percent since 2018.

“The role of the BBC has never been more crucial worldwide. The BBC is trusted by hundreds of millions of people for fair and impartial news, especially in countries where this is in short supply. We help people in times of crisis. We will continue to bring the best journalism to audiences in English and more than 40 languages, as well as increasing the impact and influence of our journalism by making our stories go further,” she said.

She added, “There is a compelling case for expanding our digital services across the World Service in order to better serve and connect with our audiences. The way audiences are accessing news and content is changing and the challenge of reaching and engaging people around the world with quality, trusted journalism is growing.”

The proposed changes to the World Service include focusing on its own platforms and presence in markets, and reducing the volume of syndicated TV and radio content on partners’ platforms in some territories.

A focus on impact, rather than reach, means the broadcaster needs more audiences to come to their platforms.

The broadcaster also seeks to move some production out of London and closer to audiences to drive engagement. For instance, the Thai service will be moved from London to Bangkok, the Korean service to Seoul, the Bangla service to Dhaka and the Focus On Africa TV bulletin to broadcast from Nairobi.

It will also bring together long-form content activities such as investigations and documentaries made by Africa Eye, the Investigations Unit and BBC Arabic documentaries to ensure a more collaborative approach across its platforms and services to enable stories to travel further across the world, as well as in the UK.

It will also create a new China Global Unit based in London to tell the global story of China to the world.

Also, the World Service English will make changes to its content and schedules which will allow investment in new initiatives, including a new podcast for younger audiences globally, and developing the podcast to offer more broadly.

The station also plans to launch a new hour-long science strand from the new science unit in Cardiff, as well as adding more live news and sports programming to the schedule.

Landor said these proposals are now subject to consultation with staff and trade unions.