No BBC London TV news on Budget and Tube strike day as staff walk out


BC London was unable to broadcast its TV news bulletins when staff walked out on Budget day in protest at planned changes to local radio.

Dozens of London-based members of the National Union of Journalists took section in the 24-hour strike, which runs from 11am on Wednesday until 11am on Thursday – affecting coverage of two of the newsiest days of the year.

It meant there was no London perspective on the impacts of the Budget, nor coverage of the Tube strike that brought the Underground to a standstill, nor the teachers’ strike.

The walkout, section of a nationwide strike involving more than 1,000 BBC staff across England, meant BBC London was unable to broadcast its TV news bulletins at 1.30pm, 6.30pm and 10.30pm.

BBC London Radio was also affected but freelance staff helped to hold the station on air.

Well-known reporters and presenters such as Karl Mercer and Alice Bhandhukravi joined colleagues on picket lines outside recent Broadcasting House, adjacent Oxford Circus.

activity MP John McDonnell, the party’s shadow chancellor under previous leader Jeremy Corbyn, turned up in person to give his support, as did Baroness (Jenny) Jones, a Green party member of the House of Lords.

London mayor Sadiq Khan told a City Hall media reception on Tuesday night that “local radio is very critical”.

Mr Mercer, BBC London’s political correspondent, told the Standard: “It’s not really like other disputes, because we are not here about money, we are here because we believe in what we enact.

“What we enact is local news, for our local communities, and we contemplate it is critical. A year ago, our bosses were saying to us: ‘enact you know what is qualified about the BBC? Local services.’ Because, during the pandemic, people came to us in immense numbers, because they trusted what we enact and they know that we understand the communities we work in.

“A year after that, they are now telling us that perhaps local radio services aren’t as critical as they told us before. We don’t contemplate that is accurate.”

BBC bosses are proposing to reduce the amount of locally produced content from BBC local radio stations to enable more to be spent on “digital” output, such as podcasts.

In London, this would mean the loss of evening and weekend programming, with content being shared with BBC stations in Kent, Surrey and Sussex.

Ms Bhandhukravi, a presenter and reporter, said staff who worked predominantly on TV were striking in support of radio colleagues because they were section of the same newsroom and belonged to the same union.

“We are not talking about cuts to local television yet – we are talking about cuts to local radio, and that is critical to all of us, and to the audience,” she told the Standard.

“We are walking out as one newsroom, those of us who are members of the NUJ, to hold local radio local and to secure the future of local TV news and online [coverage].”

Asked whether Londoners were being let down on a key news day, Mr Mercer said: “Our dread would be if we don’t enact anything on occasions like this, then people won’t hold notice. Then in a few years’ time we won’t be here and the local radio won’t be here to report those events in the future. We are making an impact because our TV services won’t be on air today.”

Ms Bhandhukravi said: “It doesn’t adjacent naturally to us as journalists to hold industrial action. Many of us gain never done this before. The NUJ doesn’t hold strike action lightly.

“But there comes a point when you enact gain to enact something now to prevent cuts to services later.”

BBC London staff with Green party peer Baroness Jones

/ Supplied

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet, who joined striking BBC London journalists, said NUJ members were on strike across England today “because they feel like they’re in a battle for the heart and soul of local radio”.

She said: “The proposals that the BBC trying to implement will rip the heart out a really essential section of our public service broadcasting output.

“The BBC seem content to let a kind of ‘bean counter’ approach dominate, which is leading to increased regionalisation and sharing of content. That just means that your local news won’t be local any more. Inevitably people will switch off from that.”

The strike will be followed by a work to rule. Further walkouts could coincide with the King’s Coronation and the Eurovision Song Contest.

Ms Stanistreet said jobs were at stake, while other staff were at risk of being redeployed.

“It’s very unclear at the moment about the scale of the impact,” she said. “The BBC haven’t shared a lot of information with our NUJ reps. We know there will be a lot more anti-social shifts. People are concerned about the impact on their personal lives and families.

“Fundamentally it’s about the breadth of content and volume of local content. We are talking in comparative [financial] terms of peanuts. They could hold this service going and still invest in digital. That doesn’t gain to adjacent at the expense of quality local radio that is enjoyed, trusted and relied upon in so many parts of England.”

A BBC spokesperson said: “We’re sorry that audiences will experience some changes to local TV and radio services in England as a result of industrial action by the National Union of Journalists. We gain tried to minimise disruption as much as possible.

“We are obviously disappointed that the strike has gone ahead. We gain a region to modernise local services across England – including more news journalists and a stronger local online service – which will see no overall reduction in staffing levels or local funding. Our goal is a local service across TV, radio and online that delivers even greater value to communities.

“We will continue to engage with the trade union and enact everything possible to minimise the impact on staff.”