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NI Assembly unites to condemn UTV cuts

26 November 2008

The Northern Ireland Assembly has unanimously called on management at UTV to suspend the company's restructuring and redundancy programme.

The Assembly has supported the concept of a Broadcasting Commission for Northern Ireland and wants Ofcom to extend the consultation process on public service broadcasting by three months.

There was cross-party support for a motion calling on Ofcom to protect diverse, quality broadcasting through the promotion of local news and programming. The motion was proposed by Barry McElduff, chair of the Assembly's Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee (DCAL), and strongly supported by vice chair David McNarry.

Representatives of the UTV NUJ chapel and Northern Ireland branches were on hand to hear several speakers demand meaningful negotiations with the NUJ and sister union BECTU. All parties were represented in the debate.

Jeremy Dear, NUJ General Secretary, said:

"The distinct role of UTV in the life of Northern Ireland is not always appreciated. Unanimity is difficult to achieve in a parliamentary assembly and the unanimous support for this motion sends a clear signal, not just to UTV management, but to Ofcom as well."

At the DCAL committee, David McNarry revealed that he has received more communications on this issue than any other policy issue. Séamus Dooley, NUJ Irish Secretary, said this was an illustration of how the union's campaign had gripped the public imagination and he paid tribute to the UTV chapel for their strong stand.

UTV management has acceded to a joint request by the NUJ and BECTU to extend the deadline for receipt of voluntary redundancies from 24 November to the end of December.

Séamus Dooley said that he believes this will allow greater time for consultation and negotiation, but again called on the company to withdraw the threat of compulsory redundancy if sufficient numbers do not apply for the voluntary scheme.

He said:

"We have secured a breathing space, now we need real negotiation on alternatives to redundancy and this can best be achieved in the absence of coercion."

Speaking after yesterday's debate, Barry McElduff MLA called on UTV to suspend further their internal action of issuing voluntary redundancy notices until the Ofcom review is completed in the Spring of 2009.

The full text of the motion adopted by the Assembly is:

That this Assembly expresses concern at Ofcom's proposals for a diminution in the public service obligations of UTV through a reduction in the minimum requirements for regional news and non-news programmes; calls on Ofcom to protect diverse, quality broadcasting through the promotion of local news and programming; calls for the extension of Ofcom's Public Service Broadcasting Review consultation period for a further three months; and further calls on UTV to suspend its restructuring and redundancy programme pending the outcome of this consultation process, and following meaningful consultation and negotiations with the trade unions representing staff at UTV.

Tags: , utv, redundancies, assembly northern ireland, cuts, ofcom, public service broadcasting, broadcasting