Walkout hits BBC news operation

Lizzie Murphy FLAGSHIP BBC programmes were scrapped yesterday as 15,000 journalists and technicians joined the biggest walkout at the corporation in more than a decade.

The 24-hour walkout from BBC studios ended at midnight last night, but unions said they were prepared to strike again for 48 hours from next Tuesday.

The BBC said 62 per cent of its staff had worked, although the figure was as low as 29 per cent among news employees.

Regional news programmes including Look North in Yorkshire were slashed from half-hour slots to just five minutes. BBC regional manager Tamsin O'Brien read the bulletin in place of its usual presenters, Harry Gration and Christa Ackroyd.

Twenty five members of staff went on strike at the Leeds BBC offices, and three programmes on Radio Leeds, including the breakfast show, were covered by stand-in presenters.

NUJ members in Hull estimated that only a quarter of the 120-strong workforce crossed the picket lines at the city's BBC centre at Queen's Court, including Look North presenter Peter Levy.

NUJ representative in Hull Andy Comfort, presenter of BBC Radio Humberside's breakfast show, was on the picket line from the early hours of the morning.

He said: "Unless they start sitting down and negotiating properly with a view to looking at the scale of the cuts then everyone here is prepared to walk out for another 24 hours."

Nationally, presenters including Dermot Murnaghan and Natasha Kaplinksy from BBC One, John Humphrys from Radio 4, Jeremy Paxman from BBC Two's Newsnight and Nicky Campbell from Radio 5 Live stayed away from work.

A number of presenters did cross picket lines in London, including Radio One DJs Chris Moyles and Jo Whiley and Radio Two's Sarah Kennedy.

Strikers held up banners as they tried to persuade office staff, delivery workers and postmen not to cross the picket line.

Union leaders said support for the strike had been "rock solid" and called on BBC director general Mark Thompson to reopen talks over controversial plans to axe 4,000 jobs.

The assistant general secretary of the Bectu broadcasting union, Gerry Morrissey, said: "This should send a clear message to Mark Thompson to return to the bargaining table for meaningful negotiations."

The general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, Jeremy Dear, said it was the biggest strike against the BBC in living memory:

"We have seen a a massive display of anger across the BBC at the scale of the impact of these cuts.

"We have made it clear we will not accept cuts which decimate programmes, devalue the BBC, short-change licence fee-payers, increase pressures on staff and worsen working conditions."

The two unions said they had recruited 2,000 new members between them since the job losses were announced in March.

The BBC's director of strategy and policy, Caroline Thomson: "We are pleased that we have managed to keep a core news service going although obviously we regret the fact that there has been a strike.

"We remain anxious to get back to the negotiating table."