No BBC London TV news on Budget and Tube strike day as staff walk out in protest at changes to local radio
BBC 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 part 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, part 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 keep the station on air.
Well-known reporters and presenters such as Karl Mercer and Alice Bhandhukravi joined colleagues on picket lines outside New Broadcasting House, near Oxford Circus.
Labour 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 important”.
At a City Hall reception tonight, @SadiqKhan sends his support to BBC staff striking tomorrow: “I wish you all the best. Local democracy is very important. Local radio is very important.”
— Ross Lydall (@RossLydall) March 14, 2023
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 do.
“What we do is local news, for our local communities, and we think it is important. A year ago, our bosses were saying to us: ‘Do you know what is good about the BBC? Local services.’ Because, during the pandemic, people came to us in big numbers, because they trusted what we do 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 important as they told us before. We don’t think that is right.”
BBC London’s Karl Mercer and @AliceBhand explain why there won’t be any @BBCLondonNews TV bulletins today - @NUJofficial members are on strike in battle to protect local radio stations such as @BBCRadioLondon pic.twitter.com/Hk91Txctwg
— Ross Lydall (@RossLydall) March 15, 2023
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 part 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 important 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 keep 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 fear would be if we don’t do anything on occasions like this, then people won’t take 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 come naturally to us as journalists to take industrial action. Many of us have never done this before. The NUJ doesn’t take strike action lightly.
“But there comes a point when you do have to do something now to prevent cuts to services later.”
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 part 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 keep this service going and still invest in digital. That doesn’t have to come 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 have tried to minimise disruption as much as possible.
“We are obviously disappointed that the strike has gone ahead. We have a plan 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 do everything possible to minimise the impact on staff.”