Page last updated at 16:54 GMT, Friday, 26 February 2010

BBC 'to cut stations and halve websites' report claims

Jon Hamm in Mad Men
Mad Men is one of the US imports said to be under threat

The BBC is to close two radio stations and scale back its web presence to make £600m in savings, according to a report in the Times newspaper.

BBC Asian Network and 6 Music will be closed under the proposals, it says.

The Times claims the measures are part of a plan, due to be made public next month, to reduce the BBC's services and focus on quality over quantity.

A statement from the BBC called press speculation "premature" but acknowledged the existence of a review.

The National Union of Journalists, however, said it had "received a detailed briefing" from the BBC this morning "confirming media reports as largely correct".

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The Union warned of strikes if cuts went ahead.

Strategic review

The Times claims the proposals are currently being considered by the BBC Trust, the corporation's governing body.

They allegedly involve a wide-ranging series of cuts that will make £600m available for higher quality programming.

Savings will reportedly be made by limiting spending on rights to sporting events and reducing the money spent on imported TV shows.

The BBC Switch and Blast! websites are also to be closed as part of a larger reduction in the BBC's web presence, the newspaper alleges.

Torin Douglas
Torin Douglas, Media correspondent

The Times report is very detailed so the paper has clearly been shown a BBC document. Whether these will be the final decisions remains to be seen.

The report is to be considered by the governing body, the BBC Trust, and The Times quotes "BBC Trust sources" as saying they would like the Director general to impose even greater cuts to budget for imported programmes.

There could also be last-minute lobbying on behalf of the two radio stations said to be due for closure. A campaign to save BBC 6 Music has been running on Facebook for some time.

The Times states the BBC's budget for foreign acquisitions, which currently stands at £100m, will be cut by a quarter.

This could mean the end of such US TV shows as Heroes, Mad Men and The Wire on BBC channels.

The BBC's website budget, which currently stands at £112m, will also be cut by 25 per cent.

The Times says this will be achieved by halving the number of web pages and reducing its staff by a quarter.

BBC Worldwide will be ordered to divest itself of its British magazine publishing arm, the newspaper continues.

If approved, this could see the Radio Times, Top Gear magazine and other publications put out to tender.

In a statement, the BBC said: "Last summer, the BBC Trust challenged the BBC to develop a new strategy to meet the opportunities and the threats of the rapidly changing media landscape.

"Although the details have yet to be agreed... the BBC expects to present its proposals to the BBC Trust in the near future."

6 Music is the only reason I have a digital radio. As far as I'm concerned they can cut back anything else

The corporation did not comment on the specific details of the leaked report, but said it was "fully committed to online and to digital television and radio".

'Not rampant'

Speaking to 5 Live, Guardian media columnist Steve Hewlett said the plans, if verified, could be politically motivated.

The BBC has drawn criticism of late amid speculation that an incoming Tory government would seek to freeze the licence fee in 2013 and replace the BBC Trust with another body.

"The BBC needs to create the impression that it's not rampant in terms of its expansion," said Hewlett.

"It needs politically to look like it's going back into its shell a bit," he continued.

The NUJ said the plans "smack of an attempt to appease political and commercial interests".

"Hard-working staff shouldn't be used as a political football and we will fight any compulsory redundancies," said general secretary Jeremy Dear.

Last year Mark Thompson gave a speech at the Voice of the Listener and Viewer Conference in London in which he said changes would take place after the digital switchover is completed in 2012.

Expect to see reductions in some kinds of programmes and content [and] a look at the current scope of our website
Mark Thompson last year

"Expect to see reductions in some kinds of programmes and content - a look at the current scope of our website - and a close examination of the future of our service portfolios once switchover has been achieved," he said in November.

Earlier this month a BBC Trust review appeared to allay fears that 6 Music would be closed in a report which praised its "distinctive approach".

The review added that the digital station "needed to grow its audience base without losing its unique selling point".

Fans have already set up a campaign protesting changes to the station, rallying support on Facebook and Twitter.

Among them is musician David Bowie, who issued a statement saying: "6 Music keeps the spirit of broadcasters like John Peel alive and for new artists to lose this station would be a great shame."

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