BBC radio journalists have warned against plans to merge presenting and production staff at The World Tonight and Newshour that would put six jobs at risk of redundancy.
Staff have said the move would throw BBC Radio 4’s The World Tonight “under the bus” and “severely damage” Newshour, the flagship current affairs programme for the BBC World Service.
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Newshour airs for two hours at 8pm weeknights, while The World Tonight follows on Radio 4 at 10pm and runs for 45 minutes.
The World Tonight is currently presented by Ritula Shah three nights a week, with a roster of regular BBC presenters filling in the other two nights – two of whom also work on Newshour.
Under the BBC’s proposals, both programmes would be produced by the same team with the same presenter on air from 8pm to 10.45pm.
This would leave the presenter unable to be briefed on late-breaking political developments such as a Brexit vote in Parliament, the National Union of Journalists has said.
They would also be unavailable to pre-record World Tonight interviews while on air for Newshour, the union has warned.
Press Gazette understands the proposal does include extra evening staffing to ensure The World Tonight can still sufficiently cover UK politics and late-breaking stories, however.
According to the NUJ, six production jobs would be lost with the merger, with staff fearing the remaining presenters and production staff would be left under “unacceptable and potentially unsafe levels of pressure and stress”.
A statement from NUJ members working on the programmes said they feared the “unworkable” plan would “severely damage” the news coverage and distinctive voice of Radio 4’s only evening news programme and the World Service’s flagship radio show.
“This is madness, unless the idea really is to throw The World Tonight under the bus,” they said. “It would also do great damage to Newshour.
“The idea that one team can make two good and different evening news programmes with one presenter back-to-back is extraordinarily ill-conceived and impractical.
“All we are asking is that one of the most fundamental and precious public purposes of the BBC, to provide accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world, should not bear the brunt of cuts when money needs to be saved.”
A BBC spokesperson said: “We are currently undergoing a consultation period to discuss the option to combine the teams for The World Tonight and Newshour.
“The teams would continue to make two separate programmes tailored for their listeners whilst bringing together the best of our international and UK news expertise.
“BBC News has to make significant savings across its output and it is not unreasonable to explore whether these two evening news programmes could be produced more efficiently, given the amount of material and subject matter that they already share.”
The World Tonight and Newshour already have the same editor under cost-cutting plans put in place in 2014, despite warnings from former long-serving presenter Robin Lustig that they serve “very different audiences”.
Lustig was among a group of seven former World Tonight presenters who wrote to the Guardian earlier this month urging the BBC not to “ruin” the programme with its current “woefully misguided” plan.
“The World Tonight is broadcast directly after Newshour, which means inevitably that Radio 4 listeners will be served a programme with a largely reheated agenda created for foreign audiences,” the presenters wrote.
“To reduce the programme’s UK coverage to a bare minimum would severely short-change the very listeners to whom it is meant to appeal, and seriously curtail the programme’s ability to cover late-breaking UK political stories.”
The NUJ said the cuts are part of the £80m in savings BBC News is seeking to make each year by 2021. It said the BBC had claimed the merger would save it £567,000 a year.
The union wants the savings to be made by cutting management posts in the department instead.
Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: “Creating a shotgun wedding for these two programmes by having one production team and presenter is a nonsense.
“The need for well-resourced news and analysis could not be greater as the public attempts to grapple with machinations of Brexit.
“The World Service’s reputation will also suffer if its distinctive style and raison d’etre is diluted. The plan requires the presenter to be on air for two-hours-and-45-minutes back-to-back every night, moving from a World Service programme to a domestic programme. This clearly cannot work.
“It’s time the management sat round the table with the union to work out a plan which preserves the quality and integrity of both these important programmes.”
Conservative MP Anna Soubry weighed in this morning, pleading with the BBC on Twitter “don’t do this”.
“The World Tonight is an excellent BBC radio programme – this proposal will diminish it and in a time of false news and other media nonsenses we should be celebrating excellence not destroying it.”