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Anger as BBC chief calls Asian Network strike a jolly

19 August 2015

Helen Boaden, head of the BBC's radio division told staff at a meeting in Birmingham's Mailbox that those working for the Asian Network should stop playing the victim.

The BBC executive, who is paid £420,000 a year, told the NUJ rep: “If the strike’s not a jolly, then why don’t you call it off?”

The 24-hour strike is over the axing of one out of two editor posts in Birmingham and moving a third of the Birmingham based-output, the Bobby Friction Show, from Birmingham to London.

Three years ago the Asian Network’s budget was halved and around 30 members of staff were sacked. At the time Bob Shennan, director of music, who earns £244,565 a year, gave staff a commitment that the Asian Network would not have to make any more savings. He now denies this.

Keith Murray, BBC rep, said:

"Helen Boaden's remarks were outrageous. It isn't a jolly for the person whose job has been axed. It isn’t a jolly for the rest of them who are battling on understaffed in a situation of low morale. It isn't very jolly for the people of Birmingham to have Bobby Friction's show, the most listened to on the Asian Network, moved to London. It is a huge loss to the Asian community in the Midlands and everyone else who enjoys his music."

Celebrity Asian artists, including comedian and writer Shazia Mirza, whose new show The Kardashians Made Me Do It opens next month at Tricycle theatre, London, and musician Jaz Dhami joined supporters of the striking NUJ members at the BBC's Asian Network who are on a 24-hour strike today. Messages of support came from all over the UK from NUJ branches, The International Federation of Journalists, the TUC and FBU fire fighters union.

Shazia Mirza said:

"The BBC Asian Network is so important to the young Asian people in this country who feel they are in a minority and don't have a voice.It is an important station for young people to be able to connect with their culture and heritage through music, comedy and debate. Without it, youngsters many feel 'there is nothing for them' no way to connect and feel like they don't belong."

Jaz, the award-winning artist known for music of the Folkhop genre said:

"Since the cuts in 2011-2012 the Asian Network has significantly reduced its relationship with the British Asian music scene as compared to Bollywood, I believe this is a direct knock on effect from the lack of staff available.

"I have been very lucky that due to my success and initial exposure I have managed to be part of some of the great events the BBC Asian Network has been part of, without them I could only dream of having achieved those platforms. Saying that, I as an artist feel I represent Asian Network in a dignified and proud manner whenever given the opportunity to perform for them, whether it be for BBC Music God Only Knows project or BBC Music Day with the Scottish Symphony Orchestra.

"All this is only possible with the hard work and dedication of the staff at Asian Network who work relentlessly to pull of such great events with limited resources. To hear that an editorial post is being lost worries me as I have seen the change on the pressures of the staff in the past three years, this is only going to further add to that.
"With regards to moving an entire show like Bobby Frictions to London doesn’t make any sense to me - as the main centre of the Asian Music scene is Birmingham, his show is realistically the only real platform artists like myself have to share our content and views."

See Jaz's letter in full

Messages of support can be sent to and tweet at #SupportBBCAN.

Suki Padda, former Broadcast Journalist at BBC Asian Network, now working in music management, said:

"The fact that Birmingham is the heart of the Asian community and was the hub for the Asian Network - the Midlands being the most accessible area for people to listen on MW and AM, it doesn’t make any sense to reduce shows from the region. Closing the hub at Leicester has already had a negative impact.
"Bobby Friction's show is the most listened to show on Asian Network - the people working on the show live in the heart of the community and are representative of the listeners of the station. By moving the show to London you are further isolating those audiences connections, we’ve seen with other shows, they have become so ‘London’ centric that it causes the bulk of our audience to switch off.
"Asian audiences aren’t drawn to radio much, but they’re drawn to Asian Network as its relatable. We shouldn’t actively demolish that relationship we’ve built with them."

Read Suki's message in full

Adam Christie, NUJ joint president, said:

"I commend the NUJ members at the Asian Network for taking this stand. The Asian Network plays a major social role in this country and the BBC should be ashamed of cuts to yet another of the significant contributions the Corporation makes to the cultural health and diversity of this country. Having lived in cities such as Leicester, Bradford and Leeds and when I worked alongside journalists contributing to the Network, I could see for myself the amazingly close rapport that they had with their audience - because they were part of that audience, that community. Personally, I despair that these cuts continue and I wish you all success with the action."

Richard Edwards, FoC, Radio Leeds NUJ chapel, said:

"Your colleagues at BBC Yorkshire are thinking of you as you head out on strike. As you hold that line, be spurred on by the knowledge that what you’re doing is RIGHT and these unsustainable cuts are WRONG.Those that lose out are hardworking NUJ members, already pushed to the limit, and the people who love and rely on their BBC services. PS – The network’s Sunday afternoon programmes are essential listening in the Edwards household as we cook the weekend roast."

David Campanale, FoC of the BBC World News chapel, said:

“It’s clear that the Asian Network forms a much loved and crucial part of the broadcast landscape, serving audiences in a distinctive way, so fulfilling the prime purposes for any BBC service. The BBC needs to take a fresh look at what it is doing, as these are a set of savings too far. The BBC World News Chapel stands in solidarity with our NUJ colleagues and wishes them success in today’s action. The BBC must reverse these cuts.”

Chris Morley, NUJ Northern and Midlands organiser, said:

"Solidarity and support from the NUJ Manchester office to members on strike at BBC Asian Network at the Mailbox, Birmingham, today. It's great that you have taken a stand on such an important issue. The BBC has been draining Birmingham and the Midlands of its broadcasting infrastructure over a number of years. The latest decision further undermines the Asian Network structure in Birmingham and cannot be allowed to go unchallenged. Your cause is widely supported by the communities of the Midlands I am sure and we need to drive it home to the BBC that fair investment in the region is the answer not blatant bias."

Nick McGowan-Lowe, chair of the Freelance Industrial Council, said:

"On behalf of the Freelance Industrial Council, we wholeheartedly support our colleagues at the BBC Asian Network and the strong stand they are taking against an unsustainable workload and a move which will take this vibrant and successful radio station out of the heart of the community which it serves. We hope today's strike makes management sees how much damage they are doing to one of BBC radio's success stories." 
Lee Barron, regional secretary Midlands TUC, said:

"Could I take this opportunity to send the fraternal best wishes of the TUC in the Midlands Region to those taking part in the action and offer you our full support. We would have visited the picket line on Wednesday but we are in London as part of the campaign against the Trade Union Bill."

David Gallagher, NUJ FoC, BBC radio & future media chapel, said:

"BBC management's treatment of the Asian Network over the past few years has been appalling.  Do they just not care about the Asian Network's audience?  All power to our radio colleagues in your fight for the future of the station!"

NUJ branches who voiced their support included:  the BBC Foyle Chapel in Derry/Londonderry, BBC chapel at Newsgathering in London, BBC Monitoring chapel at Caversham, NUJ Birmingham & Coventry Branch, NUJ Financial Times chapel, NUJ Scotland, NUJ Leeds, and NUJ BBC Oxford chapel.

The FBU West Midlands tweeted: "Sending #solidarity to staff from @bbcasiannetwork striking tomorrow to protect a service highly valued by many local people @NUJofficial."

A member of staff on the Asian Network said:

"The strike is to demonstrate to the BBC how upset and angry we are at the proposals. The BBC keeps picking on the Asian Network. After axing half the staff in 2012 and halving its budget, we were promised the network would not be asked to make any more cuts. The loss of an editor's post will increase workload and exacerbate the problems of communication between editors and staff which already exist."

Tags: , broadcasting, bbc, asian network, midlands, birmingham, strike, industrial action, cuts