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Hundreds turn out to support The Observer

22 September 2009

Hundreds of people packed a Stand Up for The Observer public meeting in London last night to celebrate the world's oldest Sunday newspaper, which had been threatened with closure.

The event, which included celebrity appearances, was designed to show the title's owner, Guardian Media Group, that its plans for the paper are being closely monitored.

NUJ officials pledged to hold ballots for industrial action if any union members are threatened with compulsory redundancy as a result of cutbacks at The Observer or its sister title The Guardian.

The meeting had been planned before last Thursday's announcement that The Observer would be saved, but the company has said it is planning further job cuts.

David Mitchell, the comedy actor and columnist who chaired the event, said a campaign was still needed.

The Peep Show star said:

"The key issue is whether the Observer retains its proper levels of funding and editorial intent.
"If the Observer essentially becomes a glorified Guardian on Sunday that might make the Guardian's voice as part of the left wing media slightly louder, but it will deprive the liberal media of an entire other voice. I say two voices are better than one."

Dominic Ponsford, Press Gazette editor, pointed out that the paper's circulation has gone up since 2000 in a speech he has reproduced on his blog.

Brian Williams, joint father of the newly-merged Guardian and Observer chapel, said:

"Most of us who work on the paper consider ourselves liberal. But we are not liberal when it comes to compulsory redundancies and any notice of these will trigger an automatic ballot for industrial action."

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ Deputy General Secretary, praised chapel members for the high profile campaign they have run so far and confirmed they have the full support of the union.

She said:

"It's vital that the newspaper remains viable.
"If it is to survive for another 218 years it needs proper resources, and needs to maintain its talented pool of journalists and keep its distinctive voice."

Mike Pike, father of the Guardian News and Media Unite chapel, which represents non-journalists, said the first battle had been won, "but not the war".

Extracts from top Observer writers over the years were read out by current and former contributors Katharine Whitehorn, Philip French, Barry Norman and Victoria Coren.

Famous faces in the audience included journalists Henry Porter, John Humphrys and Francis Wheen; and actor Simon Callow.

The meeting was organised by the NUJ and the Press Gazette.

Tags: , newspapers, cuts, observer, guardian news and media, guardian, press gazette, ballot