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BBC News suspends 450 job cuts to ensure Covid-19 coverage

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BBC cameraman

BBC News has suspended plans to cut 450 jobs as it faces the demands of covering the coronavirus pandemic.

The job losses were announced in January and were part of a plan to complete a £80m savings target by 2022.

Outlets due to be hit include BBC Two’s Newsnight, BBC Radio 5 Live and the World Service’s World Update programme.

Director general Tony Hall gave staff the news on Wednesday, a week after the broadcaster delayed the end of the free TV licence scheme for all over-75s.

Some programmes, such as Politics Live and Victoria Derbyshire, have been taken off air to prioritise coronavirus coverage, and several radio networks are sharing news bulletins.

Analysis by Amol Rajan, BBC media editor

A planned modernisation of BBC News was due to contribute £40m of savings toward an overall target of £80m. The DG said it would be inappropriate to pursue this target while BBC News was so stretched in covering the pandemic.

While these savings will probably be implemented under Lord Hall’s successor (he leaves at the end of the summer), the BBC is racking up a huge bill because of coronavirus. It has already said it will delay changes to free TV licences for the over-75s by two months (at least) – and absorb that cost, which is coincidentally around £80m (at least).

The next director general is going to inherit an even bigger financial black hole that she or he imagined.

However, negotiations with a government that had threatened to “whack” the BBC may be made marginally easier if the BBC – like other public service broadcasters – can prove its worth through this crisis.

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Coronavirus: Ofcom ‘assesses’ David Icke TV interview

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David Icke on London Live

The UK’s media watchdog is looking into a TV network’s broadcast of an interview with conspiracy theorist David Icke about coronavirus.

Ofcom said it was “assessing this programme as a priority”, following London Live’s screening of the programme on Wednesday evening.

It follows YouTube’s introduction of stricter misinformation rules after a later interview with Mr Icke by the same team was streamed on its platform.

The government has expressed concern.

‘Inaccurate claims’

“Clearly that station is regulated by Ofcom. And I would be expecting Ofcom to take appropriate action,” said Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“Clearly they are independent but I will be in touch with them to understand what action they are taking in respect to that.”

A tweet by London Live to promote the programme – produced by an independent company that also offers training services – prompted a backlash ahead of the broadcast.

But Ofcom is able to intervene only after a programme has been broadcast.

And it has now received 19 complaints about the programme from the public.

Last week, the watchdog sanctioned a community radio network for having broadcast a discussion that “contained potentially harmful views about coronavirus”.

“During the current pandemic, it’s important that potentially misleading information about the coronavirus is not broadcast on radio or TV,” Ofcom said at the time.

“This includes inaccurate claims about potential causes, symptoms, and treatments for the virus.”

Image caption

London Live screened a warning notice several times during the programme

On Tuesday, YouTube deleted copies of a later interview with Mr Icke – embedded into the production company’s site and hosted on YouTube’s platform – and announced it would wipe any other videos that also falsely linked Covid-19 to 5G mobile networks.

The production company, however, has since reuploaded this interview to another US-based service – Vimeo – to allow it to continue to be seen.

Mr Icke does not mention 5G by name in the interview broadcast by London Live, although at one point he does refer to an “electro-magnetic technologically generated soup of radiation toxicity”, which he claims has damaged old people’s immune systems. Scientists have previously rubbished suggestions mobile networks cause such harm.

London Live is owned by the Russian businessman Evgeny Lebedev, who also owns the Evening Standard and Independent newspapers.

It screened a notice during advert breaks, saying the views expressed in the programme were “not necessarily those” of the network and displayed the address of the government’s Covid-19 website.

BBC News has asked the network for comment.



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Paul Lambert: Ex-BBC producer who was ‘fixture of politics’ dies

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Paul Lambert

A former BBC producer described as a central character at Westminster and master of interviewing politicians on the street has died aged 61.

Paul Lambert, affectionately known as “Gobby”, was often heard on TV shouting questions at ministers.

He left the BBC in 2014 to become communications director of UKIP.

His daughter Danni said on Facebook the family were “devastated”. BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg described Mr Lambert as a “fixture of politics”.

Writing on Twitter, she added he was a “friend of everyone for so long – such sad, sad news”.

‘Master of the doorstep’

Based on Downing Street, Mr Lambert’s voice was heard on countless news reports putting ministers on the spot as they went about their business.

The nickname “Gobby” was a reference to Mr Lambert’s booming voice, which he used to project awkward questions towards politicians as they entered cars or walked down the street, known in broadcasting as a “doorstep”.

“The point really is to fill in the pieces of the TV bulletin piece that you haven’t got pictures to fill in. You know someone isn’t going to say anything, you just need something to happen,” Mr Lambert explained in 2013.

Others paying tribute on Twitter included political journalist Michael Crick, who said Mr Lambert was a “master of the political doorstep”.

Trade Minister Conor Burns said: “I remember the first time he shouted questions at me as I walked into Parliament. Went inside with a feeling I’d properly arrived.”

Former leader of UKIP Nigel Farage said Mr Lambert was a “unique man and great fun to work with”.

Craig Oliver, a former editor of flagship BBC News bulletins and ex-director of communications at No 10, said: “The start of a thousand TV news reports was Gobby shouting, ‘Are you going to resign?'”

Robert Peston, ITV’s political editor, said Mr Lambert was a “gent of the old school” who had “the best nose for a story”, while Sky News presenter Sophy Ridge described him as a “legend”.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionNewsnight compiled clips of Mr Lambert’s work when he left the BBC in 2014

BBC health editor Hugh Pym said Mr Lambert “always went the extra mile and asked the right question”, and BBC news presenter Reeta Chakrabarti said he was “such a central character in our Westminster newsroom for years… and a thoroughly nice man”.

Mr Lambert – who started his working career as an electrician – left the BBC ahead of the 2015 general election to lead communications for the UK Independence Party.



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Disney Plus racks up 50m subscribers in five months

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Ming-Na Wen arrives for the premiere of Disney+'s The MandalorianImage copyright
Albert L. Ortega

Image caption

The Mandalorian featuring Ming-Na Wen is a Disney+ offering

Disney’s new video streaming service has hit more than 50 million subscribers since its launch five months ago.

When Disney Plus last announced viewing figures in February it had reached 26.5 million subscribers.

Since then, this has almost doubled as more people are online and stuck at home due to virus clampdowns.

Disney Plus, which rivals Netflix and Amazon Prime, rolled out to the UK and other parts of Europe last month.

All three streaming platforms are enjoying a huge boost in viewing figures as cinemas remain closed and people are forced to stay indoors.

Disney Plus originally set a target of 60 million to 90 million subscribers by the end of fiscal 2024, when it was first launched in the US in November.

“We’re truly humbled that Disney Plus is resonating with millions around the globe,” said Kevin Mayer, a Disney spokesman.

Its subscription figures were given a boost by its audience in India, where Disney Plus was launched last week. Disney reported eight million new subscribers in India.

After the announcement on Wednesday evening, shares in Disney jumped 7% on Wall Street. The entertainment group has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, having to close its theme parks across the globe.

It has also had to stop production on new content and delay releases for potential blockbusters like Mulan and Black Widow.

Disney Plus is still behind both Netflix and Amazon Prime Video in terms of global subscriptions. Netflix added almost nine million net global subscribers during the fourth quarter of 2019. At the end of last year, it had over 167 million paying subscribers globally. Amazon now has more than 150 million viewers.

But Disney Plus, which includes films and TV shows from Disney, Pixar, Star Wars and National Geographic, has grown much faster than its rivals.

“What Disney Plus has achieved in five months took Netflix seven years,” said Chris Fenton, a movie industry analyst. “Disney Plus possesses all the ammunition needed to surpass Netflix, and it also has the potential bazooka of China. If any American streaming service can gain access to the 1.4 billion people of China, it’s Disney Plus.”



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