BBC staff have been given details of 650 job losses at the corporation’s World Service after huge cuts in Government funding.
Union leaders pinned the blame for the job losses – a quarter of the service’s 2,400-strong staff – on the Government and warned that the cuts would cause “irreparable damage”.
Sources said 500 of the jobs will be cut in the next year as part of the £46 million-a-year savings.
Managers briefed staff on the cuts ahead of an official announcement by BBC global news director Peter Horrocks. The World Service is to close five of its language services – Albanian, Macedonian, Portuguese for Africa and Serbian, as well as the English for the Caribbean regional service.
Mr Horrocks said: “These closures are not a reflection on the performance of individual services or programmes. They are all extremely important to their audiences and to the BBC.
“It is simply that there is a need to make savings due to the scale of the cuts to the BBC World Service’s Grant-in-Aid funding from the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office and we need to focus our efforts in the languages where there is the greatest need and where we have the strongest impact.”
Mark Thompson, the BBC’s director general, said the cuts would be painful and have a “deep” impact on jobs.
Union leaders said the “ferocious cuts” would damage British influence abroad and were a direct result of the Government slashing funding to an “internationally respected and successful broadcaster”. Jeremy Dear, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, said: “We are pinning the blame for these job losses squarely on the Government’s spending cuts.
“They will cause irreparable damage to the BBC’s ability to cover global news stories adequately. Journalists and other BBC employees are rightly angered at the destruction being caused to a broadcasting service of which the UK should be proud. The NUJ will join with other unions in defending jobs and quality broadcasting at the World Service. Our members have already explained, in a remarkably calm and reasoned way, why the cuts are such a severe threat to their service.”
BBC journalists and other staff plan to stage a lunchtime demonstration outside the World Service head office in Central London. The latest cuts come on top of 360 job losses in the BBC’s online service.