Friday, October 24, 2008

Coming up with a cunning plan...

Spent the whole of Tuesday in Parliament - a day which showed the range of work the NUJ is involved in.

First up was a briefing/lobby meeting organised by the Federation of Entertainment Unions on the future of public service broadcasting. I spoke in the opening panel alongside BBC Director General Mark Thompson, Stewart Purvis from Ofcom and Tony Robinson (yes, Baldrick..and yes, he did have a cunning plan!) from Equity. It was an excellent discussion with Ofcom coming in for strong criticism over their failure to stop the current cuts at ITV and proposals for the future funding of psb. The unions put forward a strong case for a more serious look at the question of levies and will be lobbying the Minister Andy Burnham and MPs over the coming weeks in support of a comprehensive strategy for funding psb which saves not only ITV but ensures the BBC is properly funded and Channel 4 escapes privatisation.

There's some other press coverage of it here:;jsessionid=06372F51B9737EDFF247D2D725A2EF32

My part-reported comments on local newspaper companies' campaigns to prevent the BBC expanding its online service and providing more local video and audio content caused some controversy. I even got a letter from the Director of Corporate Communications at Trinity Mirror setting me straight. I simply asked him the question that if we believe in media plurality and we accept that commercial local TV and radio can exist alongside the BBC what is so different about online? I've not had a response yet.

My point is that the local newspapers campaign is for their own vested interests - they don't care about ensuring local people have a variety of sources of news, comment and entertainment. They want to be able to capture the market themselves. I fully support the newspapers' expansion in to online media and I hope they capture a significant part of the audience - but it has to be done through quality content, with enough staff and resources to win "eyeballs" not by stopping the licence fee payer being able to access BBC local services. There's room for everyone in the 'market'.

After that I went to give evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights as part of their enquiry in to policing and protest. I was on a panel with one of the most objectionable people I've ever had to sit and listen to - Richard North. He even made the bloke from Huntingdon Life Sciences look like a liberal.

My remit was to highlight the attacks on photographers and other journalists covering protests - the routine stop and search, the denial of access, the confiscation of data, the physical assaults, the surveillance and intimidation. I did ok and have been asked by the committee to provide them with further information. I hope out of this the guidelines agreed between police and us and others will finally become part of the routine training and briefing of those police covering protests and will stop the harassment and allow photographers to get on with their job without fear or risk of assault.

A video of the session is available here.
The NUJ's film about police harassment of photographers is available here.

From there it was straight to a meeting with Madeleine Moon, the MP for Bridgend to talk about how we can build on the work done in Scotland around media coverage of suicide. Madeleine is looking to work with the union to improve the coverage of suicide and help bring home to journalists the impact stories on such a sensitive subject can have.

Apart from meetings in Parliament this week I've also had meetings with the GFTU and BECTU and then our staff unions to talk about a possible new building and alternatives to save money rather than moving. I've also chaired the TUC's Trades Councils' committee.

Today I'm tied up all day interviewing for a Head of Administration and Personnel as Linda York retries at the end of the year. She'll be mighty hard to replace but we've some good candidates to see today.

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