Flagship shows hit as thousands stay at home

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The Independent Online

The BBC was forced to abandon some of its highest-profile current affairs programmes as thousands of staff staged a 24-hour walk-out in protest over planned job cuts.

News programmes were the worst affected, with the Today programme and other flagship shows, including Newsnight, dropped altogether yesterday for lack of staff. BBC1's Breakfast was another high-profile casualty of the strike, jointly organised by the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), the broadcast union Bectu and Amicus in protest against plans by the director general, Mark Thompson,to cut 4,000 jobs.

The unions said that between 13,000 and 15,000 people had supported the strike, including all of their 11,000 members, taking a massive chunk out of the BBC's total workforce of 27,000.

Picket lines were formed at the entrances to BBC offices up and down the country, in an attempt to force Mr Thompson to rethink his plans to make 15 per cent cuts across the board to achieve savings of £355m.

One of the biggest picket lines was at the Television Centre in west London, where news teams from Russia, Croatia and China came to report on the corporation's plight, passing motorists hooted in support and Tony Benn and the Trades Union Congress general secretary, Brendan Barber, turned out to back the strikers.

Pickets at the Chelsea Flower Show had to disband when union officials were informed that because BBC staff were not normally based at the Royal Hospital showground it could not legally be treated as a "place of work" by the strikers. But because of the action the BBC was forced to show a retrospective of the opening of last year's event in place of a planned programme at lunchtime.

The Today programme was replaced at 6am with a repeat of In Business, followed by a repeat of an episode of Jazz Greats, presented by the Tory MP Kenneth Clarke. Later The World At One and PM were replaced with 15-minute news bulletins.

At Radio Five Live, the breakfast host Shelagh Fogarty was one of the few presenters to cross the picket line, but she was only able to read brief news bulletins, fleshed out with prerecorded material, after her co-host, Nicky Campbell, stayed at home.

The BBC 1 Breakfast hosts Natasha Kaplinsky and Dermot Murnaghan both supported the strike by staying away. The programme was replaced with a hastily put together simultaneous broadcast with BBC News 24.

Newsnight was cancelled after Jeremy Paxman and Martha Kearney stayed away. They were joined by news presenters including Fiona Bruce, Moira Stewart and George Alagiah, and by the comedian Phil Jupitus, a presenter on the digital radio station 6Music.

Those who crossed the picket line included Terry Wogan, his fellow Radio 2 presenter Sarah Kennedy, and the Radio 1 DJs Chris Moyles and Jo Whiley. Wogan wished the picketers "good luck" as he turned up to present his breakfast show, but said that as a contractor he did not feel able to join them.

Jeremy Dear, the general secretary of the NUJ, said: "It's astonishing. I don't think we ever expected to take quite so many of the flagship news and current affairs programmes completely off the air. I don't see how Mark Thompson can run and hide from the reality that is staring him in the face. He is facing a huge level of anger and concern from his own staff."

The unions want a guarantee from management that there will be no compulsory redundancies and a 90-day moratorium on the planned changes. A further 48-hour strike is planned for next week.

A spokeswoman for the BBC said that 62 per cent of staff had turned up to work. In news, however, this figure dropped to an average of just 35 per cent. In Northern Ireland only 33 per cent of staff crossed the picket line, in Wales 37 per cent, and in Scotland 35 per cent.

Mr Thompson told the One O'Clock News: "I believe what matters most of all is that we have a strong, independent BBC in the future, and although I clearly regret the fact that some programmes and services will be disrupted today, I believe it is a price worth paying to secure a strong BBC in the future."

Jana Bennett, the BBC's director of television, said: "It's regrettable that we've had some disruption to services. We've been able to provide a core, but scaled-back news service. The key thing that needs to happen is for BBC management to get back to the table with the unions for discussions. This isn't a sudden leap, it's a three-year plan which is about investing in the content and future of the BBC."

Strike breakers ...


The Radio 2 breakfast presenter, below, wished the pickets "good luck" as he turned up for work.


The Radio 1 breakfast DJ broadcast his show as usual and moaned that his webcam wasn't working.


The Radio 1 DJ made no comment as she turned up to present her mid-morning show, but did take a leaflet from one of the strikers.


In the absence of her Five Live breakfast show co-host, Nicky Campbell, Fogarty read short news bulletins.


The presenter tried to sneak into BBC London via a back door to present her afternoon show. Lowri Turner also crossed the picket line at the station.


The 'BBC Breakfast' business correspondent was the only presenter to turn up to work.

... and strike backers


'Newsnight' was cancelled after Paxman and co-presenter Martha Kearney said they would not turn up.


He and 'Today' colleague Jim Naughtie stayed at home.


The Five Live breakfast show was reduced to news bulletins and pre-recorded material after he stayed home.


The 1pm bulletin on BBC 1 replaced with a simultaneous broadcast with BBC News 24 after Alagiah and Sian Williams stayed away.


'BBC Breakfast' replaced with a simultaneous broadcast with BBC News 24 and BBC World in the absence of Kaplinsky, right, and Dermot Murnaghan.


Bruce was one of the many BBC news presenters who did not turn up.

The affected programmes

TODAY on Radio 4: replaced by repeats of Just A Minute and Jazz Greats.

World At One/ PM/ World Tonight: Replaced by hourly 15-minute bulletins.

Radio Five Live: Severe disruptions on the on the news and sports station, with live presenters replaced by pre-recorded material.

BBC 1 Breakfast: Replaced by half-hour long simultaneous broadcast with News 24 and pre-recorded material.

Newsnight: Pulled after all news resources were diverted to core bulletins.

Television News: One O'Clock, Six O'Clock and Ten O'Clock bulletins replaced by half-hour simultaneous broadcasts with News 24.

Digital News: News 24 and BBC World channels were running a mixture of live and pre-recorded material.