BBC journalists' strike knocks flagship shows off air

Thousands of BBC journalists in United Kingdom walked out on Friday in a 48-hour strike over pensions, in a move that knocked some of the broadcaster’s flagship shows off air.

The walkout by about 4 000 members of the National Union of Journalists was expected to cause major disruption, with television and radio shows enjoyed by millions of Britons pulled entirely or cut back.

BBC Radio Four’s flagship current affairs programme, Today, which has about 6,5-million listeners each morning, did not go out Friday, replaced instead by a series of pre-recorded shows.

Meanwhile the BBC’s rolling news channel was expected to be restricted to regular updates, possibly as short as two minutes, with the rest of the channel filled by repeats, reports said.

Picket lines will be mounted at BBC offices across the country in the first of two strikes planned for this month, with the second due to take place on November 15 and 16.

Negotiations about proposed pension changes between BBC journalists and management broke down last month, with 70% of the NUJ’s members voting against the broadcaster’s latest offer on pensions.

At the heart of the dispute are the BBC’s plans to reduce a pensions deficit of £1,5-billion by capping increases in pensionable pay.

“NUJ members across the BBC have consistently dubbed the proposals a pensions robbery,” said NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear. “That hasn’t changed. The BBC have now left members with no choice but to take action to defend their pensions.”

In a statement on Friday, the BBC said it was “disappointed” at the strike, particularly as four other unions had agreed a deal, adding: “It is the public who lose out and we apologise to our audience for any disruption to services.”

In a message to staff, BBC chief Mark Thompson insisted the offer made to journalists was a “fair one”.

The industrial action “may manage to take some output off the air or lower its quality”, he said.
“But strikes aren’t going to reduce the pension deficit or make the need for radical pension reform go away.”

As part of the government’s massive programme of spending cuts, the BBC has agreed to take over funding of the World Service from the foreign ministry in return for a six-year freeze on the licence fee.

Every householder in Britain with a television or radio must pay the fee, which is the BBC’s principal source of funding.—AFP

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