BBC news strike to disrupt weekend programmes

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Disruption to BBC radio and TV news programmes will continue over the weekend because of a "solidly supported" strike by thousands of journalists, including newsreaders and presenters, in a bitter row over pensions, union leaders predicted tonight.

Presenters including Radio Five Live's Nicky Campbell and TV newsreaders Fiona Bruce and Huw Edwards joined in the action, which led to the scrapping of popular programmes and forced editors on to the air.



Radio 4's flagship Today programme, the World At One and PM were all hit, and freelance staff and non-union journalists worked on the TV news channel.



Jeremy Dear, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, said: "We are having a significant impact on news and current affairs programmes, demonstrating the depth of anger at the pensions proposals.



"It is a clear indication that BBC journalists will stand up for a fair pension deal. Programmes that are going out are being run by freelance staff or managers, using pre-recorded packages.



"The strike is incredibly solid and the impact will grow over the course of the next two days."



Mr Dear said 95% of journalists in the World Service newsroom in central London were on strike and he described the atmosphere on picket lines as "incredibly determined".



Members of the NUJ began their 48-hour stoppage at midnight, immediately mounting picket lines across the country, including Bush House, Broadcasting House and TV Centre in London, claiming that camera operators, engineers and video editors belonging to the broadcasting union Bectu refused to cross pickets.



The union is planning another 48-hour strike on November 15 and 16, with threats of further disruption over Christmas.



Writing on his blog today, BBC director general Mark Thompson said: "We believe that much of the output of the BBC will be unaffected by this action. However, it is inevitable that some programmes and content will be disrupted.



"It has never been more important to ensure the BBC is spending every penny of licence fee payers money wisely and delivering the quality programmes and services audiences want. We believe the current pension proposals are realistic and affordable, and will provide fair pension provision for BBC staff for the future.



"This has been a difficult period for staff. However, the people who lose out most in any strike action are the very people we are here to serve - our audiences."



In a message to staff later he said: "Around one in six staff who were due to be on duty today have decided not to work, five in six are working normally. So far the BBC's news output has been significantly less affected than we originally expected and no BBC services have been blacked out or gone off air.



"However, a few programmes have been lost and our ability to deliver the normal scale and quality of news and journalism to our audiences here and around the world has been impaired.



"It is always a matter of regret when there is any disruption to our services to the public and that is why I have apologised to our viewers, listeners and online users this morning.



"I recognise of course the right of NUJ members to conduct legal strike action. But I would like to take this opportunity to thank the vast majority of staff who have chosen to come to work today and in particular to thank everyone who is working hard to ensure that, despite the strike, the BBC is still able to provide the public with local, national and international news on TV, radio and the web."



Lucy Adams, BBC director of business operations, admitted the dispute did not seem likely to be settled soon, adding: "It's quite difficult to see at the moment quite how we're going to resolve this. Four out of five unions and the vast majority of our non-unionised staff have accepted the deal and believe this is fair."



She refused to criticise major presenters whose absence seriously disrupted the BBC's output, saying: "Individuals have a right to strike and they have a right to follow their conscience and not cross a picket line."



Susannah Streeter, a business reporter for BBC news, said high executive pay had fuelled resentment among striking staff.



She said: "There is anger amongst many NUJ members that management and certain executives are getting a very, very good deal while journalists, the people who are actually putting out the the news, are not getting a good deal at all."



Newsnight economics editor Paul Mason joined the picket line outside Television Centre's main gate in West London, saying: "I'm supporting the strike because the management are trying to steal our accrued pension benefits.



"We want a full objective valuation of the pension scheme and we want our managers to talk to us rather than engaging in a game of long-range insults.



"What we're on strike for is the right to take a pay cut, so we can pay more into our own pensions, so management can pay more and it can become stable."



The NUJ accused the BBC of planning to "rip up" the current pension arrangements and replace them with a pension scheme that will see staff paying more in contributions and working longer and getting less in retirement.



The corporation said that BBC Breakfast was expected to be on air tomorrow morning on BBC One and the News Channel.

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