Friday, November 16, 2007

Strike threat as the BBC axes news jobs

The BBC's news operation will have its budget slashed by more than £100m over the next six years as the corporation seeks big savings to meet a £2bn funding shortfall, it will be announced this week.

Around 450 jobs will be lost from the 2,000-strong news department as part of a plan to axe more than 2,000 posts from the BBC's 23,000 workforce, which will be outlined by director-general Mark Thompson on Thursday. The cuts are likely to prompt industrial action, with some programmes being taken off air.

The BBC's rolling news channel, News 24, will be merged with its main domestic bulletins, including the 10 O'Clock News, with a smaller staff producing all TV news. Flagship programmes such as Today and Newsnight will retain their own teams but will be forced to shed jobs. Current affairs, whose programmes include Panorama, will be badly hit, with around 15 per cent of jobs going.

Thompson has been forced to push through a wave of cuts, the second since he became director-general in May 2004, after being handed a lower than expected licence fee. The £135.50 charge will rise by less than the rate of inflation towards the end of the decade. He is expected to announce that about 10 per cent of the BBC's staff will leave, but the figures for news, current affairs and factual programming, the department that makes popular 'lifestyle' shows and documentaries, are thought to be far higher.

Last night a spokesman for broadcasting union Bectu warned: 'The effect on news is likely to be drastic.'

Unions, including the National Union of Journalists, are due to meet BBC management early on Thursday and will want to see staff redeployed where possible. 'If they don't agree, there will be strikes,' the Bectu spokesman said.

Thompson is under pressure after a series of scandals at the BBC, which included fake phone-ins at shows including Blue Peter. It was fined £50,000 by media regulator Ofcom.

A programme trailer that wrongly claimed the Queen stormed out of a photoshoot has also seen the resignation of BBC1 controller Peter Fincham.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Iran detains human rights activists on security charges, news agency says

: The head of an Iranian human rights group was arrested on charges he violated national security, official media reported on Sunday.

The state-run Islamic Republic News Agency quoted an unnamed official as saying that Emadeddin Baghi, the head of a prisoner rights' group, had been detained.

IRNA said members of Baghi's family had taken part in meetings that were arranged by the opposition to topple Iran's Islamic regime.

"Baghi was doing his activities against national security under the cover of defending prisoners' rights," IRNA quoted the unnamed official as saying.

The report did not elaborate on the meetings.

Today in Africa & Middle East

In 2003, Baghi was sentenced to three years in prison on similar charges. He served two years and one year was suspended.

"Now, the suspended term will go into force," the official was quoted as saying. IRNA did not provide more details.

Baghi has criticized authorities for allegedly mistreating prisoners. Calls to Baghi's office, his family and judicial officials were not immediately returned.

Iran recently released three Iranian-Americans after they spent about four months in prison on accusations of trying to stir up a revolution in the Islamic Republic.

A fourth Iranian-American also was allowed to leave the country after authorities confiscated her passport earlier this year. All four were charged with endangering national security — allegations they and their employers denied.