BBC to cut 1,800 jobs as it confronts digital age

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LONDON, Oct 19 (Reuters) Britain's public broadcaster the BBC announced plans to cut 1,800 jobs and integrate its TV, radio and Internet news operations to confront the digital-age shift away from traditional media.

The broadcaster, paid by the British public to ''inform, educate and entertain'', said 2,500 posts would go, but it will also create new positions to offer content when and where the audience wants it.

''Media is transforming, audiences are transforming,'' BBC Director General Mark Thompson told staff yesterday. ''I care too much to see (the BBC) drift steadily into irrelevance.'' ''It would be easy to say that the sheer pace of this revolution is too fast for the BBC ... but I think we can see both here and around the world the price you pay for taking what looks like the safe option.'' News and factual departments will be hardest hit in the move, which follows almost 4,000 job cuts announced in 2005.

Most jobs are likely to go sooner than the plan's 2012-13 deadline.

Staff have said morale at the BBC, fondly known as ''Auntie'' or the ''Beeb'' in Britain, is terrible and unions, fearing quality will suffer, have threatened strike action.

The media landscape has been transformed over the last decade, with younger people spending more time on the Internet and turning away from traditional sources such as the BBC.

The corporation, which is funded by a tax on all television-owning households, says it must adapt to stay relevant and has launched a host of new TV, radio and Internet services to appeal to as many people as possible.

But it has been forced to cut jobs following a lower-than-expected licence fee settlement with the government.

In the 2005 job cuts, employees walked out for 24 hours to protest the plan and instead of the agenda-setting ''Today'' programme on BBC Radio 4, listeners woke up to a selection of jazz records and a documentary on engineering.

Yesterday, the company said it would make 10 per cent less original programming in television by 2012/13 and would focus instead on higher quality programmes.

It will also focus on improving its online offerings. The bbc.co.uk/news Web site currently reaches a weekly average of 14.5 million unique users, and it is set to establish bbc.com, which will carry advertising to users outside Britain.

The corporation will also reduce the size of its property portfolio by selling the BBC Television Centre in west London by the end of the financial year 2012/13.

REUTERS RKM BST0516

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