BBC journalists' strike knocks flagship shows off air

5th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

Thousands of BBC journalists in Britain began a 48-hour strike over pensions walked out Friday, knocking some of the broadcaster's flagship shows off air.

The walkout by around 4,000 members of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) began at 0000 GMT and caused significant disruption, with television and radio shows enjoyed by millions of Britons pulled entirely or cut back.

BBC Radio Four's flagship current affairs programme, "Today", which has about 6.5 million listeners each morning, did not go out Friday, replaced instead by a series of pre-recorded shows.

However, although there were limited updates to the BBC website's regional section, the site and the BBC's rolling news channel were covering the day's main news stories and breaking news.

Picket lines were mounted at BBC offices across the country in the first of two strikes planned for this month, with the second due on November 15-16.

Negotiations about proposed pension changes between BBC journalists and management broke down last month, with 70 percent of the NUJ's members voting against the broadcaster's latest offer.

At the heart of the dispute are the BBC's plans to reduce a pensions deficit of 1.5 billion pounds (2.4 billion dollars, 1.7 billion euros) by capping increases in pensionable pay.

NUJ president Jeremy Dear said he was "delighted" with how the strike was going but added that the NUJ remained open to talks at any time.

"We would be prepared to consider working longer or paying more but not working longer and paying more and getting lower benefits at the end of it," he told reporters outside the BBC's Television Centre in west London.

In a statement Friday, the BBC said it was "disappointed" at the strike, particularly as four other unions had agreed a deal.

"It is the public who lose out and we apologise to our audience for any disruption to services," it said.

In a message to staff, BBC chief Mark Thompson insisted the offer made to journalists was a "fair one."

"Strikes aren't going to reduce the pension deficit or make the need for radical pension reform go away," he said.

As well as its pensions deficit, the BBC is currently facing a squeeze on its funding as part of a widespread programme of public spending cuts unveiled by the British government last month to help pay off a massive budget deficit.

© 2010 AFP

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