BBC planning deep cuts to Northern Ireland coverage

Radio Foyle to be reduced to skeleton service in move that could centralise regional coverage in Belfast

The BBC is planning to make deep cuts to its Northern Ireland coverage, in a move that could centralise the broadcaster’s coverage of the region in Belfast.

BBC Radio Foyle, based in Derry, will be reduced to a skeleton service without its own news updates or a breakfast show. The outlet was founded in 1979 at the height of the Troubles to provide more localised coverage of Derry, with its own reporters and presenters.

It is the latest victim of the government’s licence fee freeze and UK-wide decisions by BBC managers to shift money away from traditional radio and television stations and into digital products.

One BBC Northern Ireland employee said of Radio Foyle: “It’s a radio station for 100,000 people – but during the Troubles global stories were coming out of it on a regular basis. It’s part of the tapestry of the place. People there don’t feel well served by Belfast and they don’t feel that Belfast will reorientate its coverage.”

About 36 staff will lose their jobs as a result of the cuts, which will save £2.3m, with further redundancies expected next year. Multiple staff at BBC Northern Ireland suggested there should be a renewed look at some of the salaries paid to managers and senior presenters, such as Belfast-based Stephen Nolan, who earns £415,000 a year for his work across the BBC.

BBC Northern Ireland, which has a record of producing award-winning programmes, has already had to drop plans to rebuild its Belfast headquarters and is dealing with allegations of bullying in its investigative news division.

The combined audience for BBC Radio Foyle and BBC Radio Ulster is 469,000 people a week – equivalent to 30% of Northern Ireland’s population. But four years ago they were reaching 36% of the population. The fear is that their audience is now in long-term decline as people switch away from live radio broadcasts in favour of podcasts and other online sources of news and information.

The BBC has already announced deep cuts to local radio stations in England, saying it has no choice due to the licence fee freeze and changing audience habits.

Colum Eastwood, the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour party, said the cuts to Radio Foyle were a “shameful attempt” to shut the station down by stealth. “If there are cuts to be made, it should be on some of the outrageous wages that the BBC currently spends. Our local station and listeners should not suffer because the BBC lack the will to upset their highest earners.”

Contributor

Jim Waterson Media editor

The GuardianTramp

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