BBC Puts Its Science Eggs in One Basket

LONDON--The BBC, the United Kingdom's giant public service broadcaster, is about to create the largest science broadcasting center in the world. As part of a major reorganization, on 1 April all the corporation's separate science units are to merge into a single department with a $30 million budget and a staff of some 185 people. The new center will include the BBC's Radio Science Unit and its World Service Science, which will move from their central London locations to Television Centre at White City in west London.

The change is part of BBC Director-General John Birt's campaign to improve efficiency by creating "bimedia" departments serving both television and radio. Jana Bennett, who will head the new BBC Science, stressed the benefits for all programming of having a "critical mass" of expertise under one roof. Other staffers agree: Deborah Cohen, head of the Science Unit for national radio, says the merger will make it much easier to collaborate on big projects, such as coverage of Britain's national science week. Radio and television have in the past given this event extensive coverage and together carried out experimental forums, dubbed "Megalabs," involving the general public.

Some radio staff members have been uneasy about joining their TV colleagues, arguing that their needs will be swamped by the voracious appetite of television and that the west London location will make arranging interviews harder. The World Service, in particular, which has always been quite independent of the rest of the BBC, mounted a vocal campaign not to be swallowed into the wider organization. But the high profile of the new BBC Science has begun to win over most science staff, none of whom are expected to lose their jobs under the reorganization. Given that things had to change, "it's the best deal we could possibly hope for," says one World Service staffer. "It could be quite an exciting time."