Friday, September 26, 2008

Regulator fails..again

On the train on the way back from Scotland having caught the sleeper up overnight for an early morning meeting with senior Johnston Press management.

Like all newspaper groups Johnston are axing jobs, leaving vacancies unfilled and cutting resources, leading to unmanageable workloads, stress and falling morale.

With NUJ members across the group considering industrial action and with an ongoing dispute in Sheffield, NUJ Scottish Organiser Paul Holleran and I sought to convey the enormous concern, fear and in some cases anger there is at the current situation. We had a very constructive meeting and I'm hopeful something more positive can come from it. I'll be reporting back to officials and reps shortly.

That meeting, like so many at the moment, focused a lot on the stress facing journalists in under-resourced newsrooms. That’s why this week the NUJ has launched its Stressed Out campaign – making workloads and stress workplace issues, central to the collective action of the union. We’ve already had a really positive response to that.

The response to the film we produced to provide evidence of the harassment faced by photographers and camera crew has also been really positive. We’ve had more than 3600 hits on it so far – and as a result we’ve been asked to take part in a major media and civil liberties event later this year.

Yesterday was dominated by the Ofcom report. In an era of failing regulation it is little wonder Ofcom have given in to ITV’s shareholders so easily. Stewart Purvis claims the union have got it wrong by attacking Ofcom when they are protecting the future of regional news. But he misses the point – big style.

Local news is what people want not just regional. With mega regions, such as the one stretching from Penzance to Tewkesbury, it is madness to think you will maintain the penetration achieved at the moment by programmes which are much more distinctive.

In the next few years wait to hear ITV claim no-one watches these shows therefore they should be allowed to ditch further public service broadcasting commitments. It’s a familiar cry from ITV’s shareholders and one which Ofcom accepts time and time again. It’s called light-touch regulation.

Although it didn’t make all the headlines the equally damaging aspect of Ofcom’s report is their effective support for top-slicing the licence fee – a subsidy from the public purse for commercial broadcasting.

Our comments on the issue were picked up by The Guardian, BBC News and others and we got good coverage on TV and radio.

Yesterday was also the union’s Finance Committee meeting at which I gave updates on the union’s building share project, the staff pension scheme, staffing changes, pay negotiations and budget reports. It is one of the strange aspects of my job – I am both campaigner, spokesperson, organiser and trade union activist as well as chief executive of the union. I also did some internal interviews for vacant posts in our administration and took part in a meeting on pensions.

Other things I’ve been up to in the past few days – a meeting with our FoC at Telegraph newspapers, a meeting with BBC Director General Mark Thompson and with Wilson Borja, the Colombian Congressman, who along with a number of journalists is part of a move by the regime to criminalise any opposition in the country.

I also tried to get a bit of culture in by visiting the excellent Hadrian exhibition at the British Museum and by going to see Spurs play Wisla Krakow in the UEFA Cup - that wasn't quite so cultured.

Now it’s back to the office to try and clear emails and correspondence and a whirlwind set of internal meetings before I head off on holiday tomorrow.

The blog will also be on holiday – It’ll be back up and running from 13 October. In the meantime all the news of NUJ campaigns will be available at

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