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BBC sets out crisis coverage plan

March 18, 2020

The BBC has set out how it will ensure it keeps the nation informed, educated, and entertained in what it describes as unprecedented times.

“We all know these are challenging times for each and every one of us,” stated Director-General Tony Hall. “As the national broadcaster, the BBC has a special role to play at this time of national need.”

“We need to pull together to get through this. That’s why the BBC will be using all of its resources – channels, stations and output – to help keep the nation informed, educated and entertained. We are making a series of changes to our output to achieve that,” he advised.

“We will continue to deliver all the essential news and information – with special programming and content.”

“We also will do everything from using our airwaves for exercise classes for older people, religious services, recipes and advice on food for older people and low-income families, and should schools close, education programming for different age groups. We will also be launching a whole new iPlayer experience for children. And of course there will be entertainment – with the ambition of giving people some escapism and hopefully the odd smile.”

“Clearly there will be disruption to our output along the way, but we will do our very best. It will take time to emerge from the challenges we all face, but the BBC will be there for the public all the way through this.”

Accordingly, the  BBC has announced a wide-ranging package of measures.

“Our core role is to bring trusted news and information to audiences in the UK and around the world in a fast-moving situation, and counter confusion and misinformation,” it says.

“In particular:

  • We will do everything we can to maintain Breakfast, the One, Six and Ten and ensure they continue to perform a vital role on BBC One
  • We will broadcast a weekly prime-time Coronavirus special on Wednesdays on BBC One, and move Question Time to 8pm on Thursdays, with call-in audiences and remote guests.
  • We will record a daily edition of the Coronavirus podcast, and film it where possible for News channel use in the UK and abroad.
  • We will bring listeners the most up-to-date information on Coronavirus through 5 Live. 5 Live will be answering listeners’ questions with regular phone-ins.
  • We will focus local radio breakfast and mid-morning output on news, open phone lines and expert advice for local communities between 6am and midday.
  • Under the umbrella Make A Difference, every local radio station will join up with local volunteer groups to help co-ordinate support for the elderly, housebound or at risk, making sure people know what help is available in their area.
  • We will keep Newsround bulletins on air throughout the day on CBBC.
  • We will delay the planned closure of the Red Button text news and information service.”

The BBC says it will help people in the UK deal with the impact of the crisis on their own lives, by providing advice, education and support.

Initiatives include:

  • Using The One Show as a consumer programme show for all aspects of the crisis. This will include health and well-being advice, keeping fit and healthy eating tips, as well as links to other BBC output that can help and support.
  • In BBC One daytime, Health Check UK Live will directly address the concerns of viewers who are in isolation, offering tips on how to keep healthy and happy at home.
  • Making BBC Homepage the BBC’s bulletin board supplying clear information – the answers to all the key questions, with public information, health advice and recipes.
  • Launching a virtual church service on Sunday mornings across local radio in England, led initially by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
  • Subject to outside broadcast capacity and our partners, the BBC will aim to broadcast a weekly Sunday morning church service on BBC One, and explore how to support other religions and denominations, including in the run-up to Ramadan.
  • It will work with partners to get older age group exercise routines and other fitness programming into people’s homes on TV or radio.
  • It will retarget the BBC Food website around collections of recipes and advice on what can be made with essentials, especially for older people, and for low-income families.

In the event that schools are shut down, and subject to further work and discussions with the Department for Education, devolved administrations and schools, the BBC is exploring:

  • A daily educational programme for different key stages or year groups – with a complementary self-learning programme for students to follow, broadcast on BBC Red Button and made available on demand on BBC iPlayer.
  • Expanding BBC Bitesize content, with our social media running daily troubleshooting Q&As focusing on a different subject each day.
  • Increasing our educational programming on BBC iPlayer, bringing together the best from BBC Bitesize, BBC Teach and the wider BBC portfolio where educationally appropriate.
  • Creating two new daily educational podcasts for BBC Sounds, one for primary and one for secondary.
  • BBC Four and BBC Red Button devoting a block of programming each weekday evening to show programmes that support the GCSE and A Level curriculum. In Scotland, the Scotland channel will support the Scottish NQs and Highers in daytime.

The BBC says it will keep people entertained, providing laughter, escapism, companionship, shared experiences and a sense of connection to the outside world.

Initiatives include the following:

  • It will bring back many favourite shows, allowing people of all ages to escape into some top-quality entertainment both on our channels and on BBC iPlayer. New boxsets going up shortly include Spooks, The Missing, Waking The Dead, French And Saunders, Wallander and The Honourable Woman, as well as more from BBC Three.
  • It will be launching an exciting new iPlayer experience for children, offering a wide range of entertaining and educational series. It will be easy to use and easy for them to find what’s relevant to them.
  • Radio 1, Radio 2 and Radio 4 will provide the information, explanation and escape that millions rely on. On Radio 4, we will dig into our rich archive of drama with such well-loved titles as The Complete Smiley, all of the novels by the Bronte Sisters, film noir classics by Raymond Chandler, and reassuring favourites as Rumpole and Wodehouse. It will be sharing popular podcast dramas with a wider radio audience for the first time by broadcasting the award-winning Forest 404 and The Whisperer In Darkness. It will also hope to provide some joy and laughter by running classic editions of I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue and Just A Minute.
  • It will do the same in BBC Sounds, looking at bringing back classic sport, comedy and drama, as well as exploring using the BBC’s programme index to allow audiences to search thousands of online archive radio programmes.
  • It will aim to create live fund-raising events, to raise money for coronavirus good causes.
  • At a time when British culture is having to close its doors, the BBC, through iPlayer and Sounds, can give British culture an audience that can’t be there in person. We propose to run an essential arts and culture service – Culture in Quarantine – that will keep the Arts alive in people’s homes, focused most intensely across Radio 3, Radio 4, BBC Two, BBC Four, Sounds, iPlayer and our digital platforms, working closely with organisations like Arts Council England and other national funding and producing bodies. This will include guides to shuttered exhibitions, performances from world-class musicians and comedy clubs, new plays created especially for broadcast featuring exceptional talent, poetry and book readings.

Additionally, BBC News has outlined its own initial plans for how it will continue to offer its audiences trusted and accurate news throughout the Coronavirus crisis.

Director of News, Fran Unsworth, said: “These are unprecedented and difficult days. Trusted, accurate information is vital in a public health emergency and the BBC has a key role to play. We will continue offering our audience a continuous news service on TV, radio and online but this will look a bit different in the weeks ahead. Like many organisations we are unable to have all our staff on site due to the Coronavirus outbreak. We are therefore making some changes to what we do to streamline our output to ensure we can work with fewer people and protect the staff who are at work.”

The plans are as followed:


We will be making some visible changes to our output to focus on the latest news, information, live events and audience questions in the coming days. Breakfast, News At One, News At Six and News At Ten will continue to perform a vital role on BBC One, while we make some changes to support our continuous news channels.

We will be making some visible changes to our output to focus on the latest news, information, live events and audience questions in the coming days.

From tomorrow we will be moving to a core news service on the BBC News channel in the UK – with fewer branded programmes. This core service will replace some scheduled programmes on BBC Two including Politics Live and Victoria Derbyshire. We will be talking to these teams about how they can support the core operation, which will also provide live coverage of major news conferences and government briefings to BBC iPlayer, TV and News online.

There will also be a reduction in branded programmes on BBC World News – and more integrated working across live TV output behind the scenes. Some Persian TV programmes will be suspended.

Newsnight and The Andrew Marr Show will remain on air but will be operated by fewer technical staff; while The Andrew Neil Show, Newswatch and The Travel Show will be suspended. HARDtalk will also be suspended from next week.

Question Time will be broadcast at 8pm every Thursday without a studio audience for a period. From next Thursday it will be broadcast from a fixed location each week. Audiences will submit questions and we are particularly keen to hear from those in vulnerable groups.


We believe we can protect much of our regular, trusted output at this point – though we are keeping the situation under close review and will be making some initial changes.

On World Service English, The World This Week will be suspended from tomorrow, with World Update and Weekend suspended from next week.

In the UK, radio summaries on BBC Radio 2, 3, 4 and 5 live will be brought together into a single output from 1am on Friday, with 6 Music using the same script. There will be shared production and output on Asian Network and Newsbeat from tomorrow. The Week In Westminster on Radio 4 (Saturday mornings) will be suspended after 21 March. We are making some other changes to radio studio usage and working methods to protect our staff.


Over the last few weeks we have seen unprecedented use of our digital news services in the UK and around the world – with high consumption of our live pages, explanatory journalism and in-depth reporting. We will be making some changes to the way our teams are organised to sustain these vital services – and to ensure we can distribute important information via social media.

As a result of this we will be focusing content on the accounts that reach the widest number of people, drawing in effort from across the BBC to support our social media activity, and suspending posts on some smaller accounts over the coming days.


Newscast will change into a daily edition of The Coronavirus Podcast. Americast, Beyond Today and The Next Episode podcasts will be suspended.

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