Wednesday, April 08, 2009

More strikes as crisis deepens

I've been away - not on holiday but holed up in various rooms across the BBC trying to resolve the dispute over threatened compulsory redundancies at the South Asia Service. Negotiations often go quite close to the wire - but these almost went beyond. 10 hours before national strike action was due to begin across the BBC we reached a deal. The night before we'd reached a stalemate and talks broke down at 1am. It looked like the strike was on. But an 11th hour meeting set out a process for avoiding compulsory redundancies. Now we have to make sure it delivers - otherwise we have reserved our right to take strike action in the future.

The talks dragging on in to Thursday meant I had to pull out of the delegation to Colombia. At this very moment I'm meant to be doing a press conference in Bogota - instead i'm in London looking forward to a management meeting. No comment.

Apart from the BBC I've met with Johnston Press reps - where our members at Burnley have now also voted for strike action - who have drawn up plans for a couple of activities to highlight the cuts in local media in the coming weeks, sent a message of support to strikers at the Daily Record/Sunday Mail, appointed Sue Harris to be the union's new broadcasting organiser to replace Paul McLaughlin who leaves the NUJ after 10 years on 24 April, attended part of the NUJ Commission on Local Media, been to Brussels to meet with the International Federation of Journalists and answered endless emails. I've even figured out how to work my new mobile phone.

Everything at the moment is dominated by the crisis engulfing local media - from MPs and Lords saying the licence fee should be used to fund Channel 4 (an idea that simply robs Peter to pay Paul and does nothing to improve the media) to the debate about media ownership to the daily job losses hitting all parts of the industry. Every day is a mixture of providing support to members facing cuts and lobbying for changes which will help sustain and build new media in the future.

It's clear the major publishers simply have no answer but to make journalists pay for the crisis they have created through their greed and failure. Gannett, parent company of Newsquest, whilst dishing out $2m in bonuses to executives asked staff in the US to work unpaid for a week last month as a one-off. Now they have come back demanding the same this month, next month and the month after.

Here Newsquest have asked staff to follow suit. We've written to them saying we believe such a solution is unaffordable for low paid journalists - but have offered a dialogue about ways we can work with the company to tackle its debt and financial problems. The response. Nothing. Same is true of Trinity Mirror. Only a foolish government would hand money to these modern-day robber barons.

The NUJ has had its rows and its good times with Press Gazette over the years but through it all it has served our industry brilliantly. I'm very sad to hear of its demise. Yes I know Wilmington say it will continue online to be a valuable resource for journalists. How, when it is getting rid of all its journalists remains to be seen. I'm with Roy Greenslade and Jon Slattery on this one...

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