BBC prepared for news blackout as staff strike

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Sunday, May 22, 2005 The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) looks tonight to be resigned to losing its flagship radio and television news, politics and current affairs broadcasting.

Staff at the technicians' union BECTU, the manual workers' union Amicus and the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) are taking part in a one day strike in protest to the 4,000 job cuts announced earlier this year.

The job cuts amount to almost 20% of the BBC's workforce and are part of a £355 million cost-cutting move by the new Director General Mark Thompson, which unions say will compromise the quality of the BBC's output.

On Thursday the BBC were forced to concede that BBC TWO's flagship current affairs show Newsnight would fall casualty to the strike after presenter Jeremy Paxman said he would not cross the picket line.

Radio 4's four main current affairs programmes, The Today Programme, The World At One, PM and The World Tonight are expected to be replaced with short news bulletins and pre-recorded material. Other shows which are usually live are expected to be pre-recorded or produced by management.

Television news bulletins are expected to be shortened and will not contain their usual high-tech graphics. The rolling news channel BBC News 24 has prepared to air 50% pre-recorded material tomorrow, and rolling news radio station Five Live has also pre-recorded some shows.

Coverage of the Chelsea Flower Show on BBC ONE and BBC TWO which begins tomorrow is likely to be affected.

It is unclear how hard BBC News Online and the World Service will be hit, and how many of the BBC's field journalists will break the strike.

A 48 hour strike is scheduled for the 31st of May and 1st of June, and further strikes will be announced if talks do not advance, though the strikes have so far avoided clashing with major outside broadcasts such as Saturday's FA Cup final.

Gerry Morrisey of BECTU says that "Staff are keen to take part in action to leave director general Mark Thompson in no doubt that he is out of touch," and the NUJ secretary Jeremy Dear predicted major disruption.