EXCLUSIVE: BBC News will make sweeping changes to its news channel presenting line-up from next week, with a number of seasoned anchors dropping off air.
The British broadcaster is merging its UK and World News stations into a single channel, with changes gradually being introduced from April 3.
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Audiences are unlikely to notice a “big bang” overhaul, but one of the most notable differences will be the channel’s presenter lineup.
Newsroom sources also expect BBC management to rethink plans to reduce UK news amid fears that the merger could dilute domestic output and damage viewing figures. The BBC said the channel always planned to carry UK news for local viewers.
From next week, five journalists will take up Chief Presenter roles, including Matthew Amroliwala, Yalda Hakim, Christian Fraser, Lucy Hockings, and Maryam Moshiri.
A further 10 UK-based presenters were unsuccessful in applying for these roles, and Deadline hears that many have dropped off BBC News’ hosting rota, meaning they have no shifts in April.
Those who did not land a Chief Presenter role include Ben Brown, Martine Croxall, Geeta Guru-Murthy, Shaun Ley, and Annita McVeigh.
A number of presenters are considering their future at the BBC, while others are in talks over Correspondent roles, which will include studio presenting duties.
Naja Nielsen, Digital Director at BBC News, said the Chief Presenters will occupy new timeslots, though sources said that only Hockings will have her own branded show from launch, with others expected to follow. Hockings will be on air between 12-3PM following internal piloting.
More UK News Than Originally Planned
BBC insiders said managers want to lower the threshold for when the channel splits into two feeds, meaning that UK viewers will be served with a greater volume of domestic breaking news stories.
“Somebody somewhere has realized that this isn’t going to work and a lot more separate UK output is going to be required,” said one person familiar with the plans.
A second source added: “If they do really lower the bar, you could end up effectively with two channels all over again.”
Insiders anticipate that more UK news will require a larger team of presenters, but staff remain in the dark about the precise nature of the plans.
“Presenters are being offloaded, they’re not going to have enough people to do the job,” said an insider. “There’s a lot of unhappiness in the newsroom about how they have been treated.”
The rethink comes as UK media regulator Ofcom voiced concerns about the merger. Kevin Bakhurst, Ofcom’s Group Director, wrote to the BBC last week to say it had not properly explained the changes.
“The absence of important information has resulted in a lot of uncertainty for audiences who are not clear about what the changes will mean in practice for the services they use,” he said.
There is also concern about the BBC News channel anchoring its UK feed from Studio J at London’s New Broadcasting House. This studio is usually reserved for weather forecasts and is equipped with a manual autocue.
“It’s a very Micky Mouse, basic studio,” said a source. Another insider played down the idea of Studio J being reserved for UK news, stressing that it will be used for a variety of output.
In a blog published on Monday, Nielsen said: “Our aim is to create the best live and breaking news on both TV and on digital platforms, where more and more audiences are getting their news. We need to modernise the way we deliver the news – while addressing the financial challenges we face.”
Other opt-outs for UK viewers will include flagship BBC1 news bulletins and Newsnight, BBC2’s nightly current affairs show. A TV version of Radio 5 Live’s Nicky Campbell Show is not yet ready to launch.
Nielsen added: “Alongside these changes to the TV channel, the boost to our live and breaking news team will mean we can introduce more changes over the coming months, including single story live streams which audiences will be able to watch on the BBC News website and on iPlayer.”
There has been an exodus of journalism talent from the BBC in the past two years. In January, Deadline revealed that seasoned anchors David Eades, Joanna Gosling, and Tim Willcox had taken voluntary redundancy ahead of the news channel changes.
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