Some of the BBC News channel’s most famous faces, including Jane Hill, Ben Brown and Martine Croxall, have been axed before the launch this spring of a channel that combines international and domestic news.
The trio have become familiar to UK viewers during times of political and economic turmoil and their departure could prompt a row about ageism, according to BBC insiders.
From April, the BBC News channel and its commercial global counterpart BBC World News will disappear and be replaced by a new channel called BBC News, aimed at UK and international audiences.
Merging the two channels is part of a £500m cost-cutting and redistribution mission announced by the BBC director general, Tim Davie, to create a “digital-first” organisation and save £285m a year, necessitated by the government freezing the licence fee for two years.
Presenters were invited to apply for the chief anchor roles on BBC News and none of Hill, Brown or Croxall were chosen although Hill will be presenting more shifts on the main BBC News bulletins so will remain at the corporation. Other regulars such as Annita McVeigh, Geeta Guru-Murthy or Shaun Ley were also not chosen and some presenters such as Joanna Gosling declined to audition and have already left.
Instead, Matthew Amroliwala, Christian Fraser, Yalda Hakim, Lucy Hockings and Maryam Moshiri will be the key presenters of BBC News, leaving the future of the others at the BBC in doubt.
The National Union of Journalists is understood to be arguing there is still room for others on the new channel or in other roles across the corporation such as radio. One source said eyebrows had been raised about the age of the women who had not been chosen, and claimed all but one of them have had pay corrections due to equal pay issues.
Some insiders have said the choice of presenters signals that the focus of the new channel will be more on international news. Amroliwala is the main presenter for BBC World News’s flagship programme, Global, but is known to UK audiences as he was a lead presenter on the BBC News channel for 16 years.
Fraser presents The Context on the BBC News channel and has co-presented Beyond 100 Days on BBC World News. Hakim, Moshiri and Hockings have worked principally as anchors on BBC World News.
The BBC said all the anchors had been appointed “via a competitive interview process in accordance with BBC HR procedures”.
The BBC News chief executive, Deborah Turness, said: “This team’s editorial leadership, talent, knowledge and flair make them the ideal presenters to bring the BBC’s trusted journalism to people at home in the UK and around the globe.”
The channel is expected to launch in the first week of April and will split into two feeds when it needs to cover big breaking domestic stories that are not of enough importance or interest to world audiences.
The Guardian has learned that Turness has asked for more home news on the station. Some UK politicians are likely to be unhappy that fewer of their constituents’ concerns will be covered by a station funded by licence fee payers but aimed also at audiences abroad, where it will be allowed to sell adverts.