LONDON (AFP) — The BBC unveiled 1,800 job cuts Thursday as part of a cost-cutting plan to plug a four-billion-dollar funding shortfall caused by lower than expected government funding for the British broadcaster.
The lay-offs, which affect some eight percent of staff and are among the most sweeping in the broadcaster's 85-year history, will hit news and current affairs particularly hard and have provoked anger from unions and journalists.
"There will be a smaller BBC, but one which packs a bigger punch because it is more focused on quality and the content that really makes a difference to audiences," director-general Mark Thompson told staff, according to a statement.
A total of 2,500 posts are to be phased out in the next six years, the BBC statement said, but added that the creation of around 700 jobs would result in total redundancies estimated at 1,800.
On Wednesday, governing body the BBC Trust approved Thompson's plans to plug a two-billion-pound (2.8-billion-euro, four-billion-dollar) gap which opened up in January when ministers announced the size of the BBC licence fee settlement.
The yearly fee is paid by all television set owners to help fund BBC services and is currently 135.50 pounds (277 dollars, 194 euros) for owners of colour sets.
But as well as a shortage of funds, Thompson's reforms also highlight wider problems facing the BBC, which dominated terrestrial television and radio for decades, as it grapples with the challenge of competing in the digital age.
The BBC also confirmed a swathe of other cost-saving measures including selling its west London headquarters, three percent annual efficiency targets for the next six years and making 10 percent fewer new programmes in that time.
It will also merge its largely separate television, radio and online news operations into one newsroom. The BBC said it expects to cut up to 490 posts over five years in news and current affairs.
In another sign of its rush for cash, the BBC announced plans to allow advertising on its website internationally for the first time, although services in Britain will be unaffected.
The corporation described the measures as "a radical programme of reform" which would deliver a "smaller but fitter" organisation.
But unions have said strike action is likely which could take live programmes off the air unless the BBC pulls back from sending letters seeking volunteers for redundancy by noon (1100 GMT) Friday.
Gerry Morrissey, general secretary of broadcasting workers' union Bectu, said that union representatives were feeling "extremely angry" because they felt the BBC had not properly negotiated the redundancies with them.
"They are up for taking strikes to oppose these unnecessary cuts," he added.
National Union of Journalists' general secretary Jeremy Dear also raised the prospect of strikes, adding it "makes no sense" to cut staff "if the trust really believe quality news and current affairs is at the heart of what the BBC does."
The prospect of slashing news and current affairs services has provoked fury from some of the BBC's star news presenters including John Humphrys and Jeremy Paxman.
Humphrys has argued that niche digital television channels such as BBC3, aimed at young people and launched in 2003, and BBC4, which has a cultural focus and dates back to 2002, should be pruned instead.
As well as the funding row, the BBC has also been in hot water recently after a series of scandals rocked trust in the corporation.
The most notorious came in July when the BBC apologised to Queen Elizabeth II after wrongly implying in a trailer for a documentary that she stormed out of a photo shoot with celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz.
Earlier this month, Peter Fincham, controller of the main BBC1 channel, who presented the sequence to journalists, resigned.
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