BBC correspondents Kate Adie, Ben Brown and Brian Hanrahan are spearheading an unprecedented journalists' campaign to save BBC World Television from staff cuts and a merger with News 24. In a letter published in today's Independent, 27 BBC reporters say proposed reductions in staff and output "would undermine the corporation's mission statement ... which is to `be the world's most creative and trusted broadcaster'".
They are concerned that the BBC's global news channel will be forced to run on a skeleton staff, just as it is receiving accolades for its coverage of the war in Kosovo. The diplomatic correspondents Bridget Kendall and James Robbins, and veteran reporter Robin Deneslow, are also signatories to the letter, along with South Africa correspondent Jeremy Vine and defence correspondent Mark Laity.
World affairs editor John Simpson is supporting his colleagues, BBC insiders said.
The letter is the first step of a longer-term campaign which will include the lobbying of MPs and, it is proposed, persuading prestigious statesmen, such as Nelson Mandela, to support BBC World.
Staff have been told that the newsroom of 50 people will be cut by up to 19, a reduction which, MPs are to be told, "will threaten the channel's viability as an authoritative news broadcaster. A likely outcome is the gradual absorption of BBC World by its domestic counterpart, BBC News 24".
The commercially run channel has a global audience of 135 million people, but has made losses of up to pounds 100m since its launch in 1991. The BBC said this week that last year's loss was pounds 15.6m.
The campaigners are convinced that BBC World is achieving a global reputation akin to that of World Service radio, particularly for providing impartial reporting to people who are unsure of what is happening in their own country.
"BBC correspondents hardly known in Britain were recognised and greeted as household names in the Kosovar refugee camps because of BBC World's sustained coverage of the crisis," the journalists are telling MPs. "Vatican sources said they first heard the news of the death of Cardinal Hume while watching BBC World ..."
Since the beginning of this year, rumours have been circulating in the BBC World newsroom that the channel's closure was imminent.
The BBC's director-general, Sir John Birt, yesterday reiterated his commitment to the service, saying that it had a long term future.
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