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NUJ says BBC must halt journalism job cuts as management crisis continues

12 November 2012

The NUJ is demanding a moratorium on journalism job cuts at the BBC. General secretary Michelle Stanistreet declared that the current management crisis should be a wake-up call to the BBC.

"It needs to take the opportunity to halt the assault on frontline journalism and put in place measures to shore up news and current affairs before it is too late.

"The BBC houses some of the best journalism and programming in the world, let alone the UK – but undoubtedly events of the last fortnight have plunged the corporation into crisis. The core issue at the heart of this crisis is the terrible plight of victims who've suffered horrendous abuse – and we must not lose sight of that.
"As the crisis takes hold within BBC senior management, the reality for most journalists in the BBC is business as usual. And that means journalists and other staff getting on with what they do best – producing quality programmes and content.
"The broader backdrop to this problem is the remorseless cost cutting across the corporation. In our campaign to find an alternative to the cuts to the BBC planned in its so-called Delivering Quality First (DQF) programme - a 20 per cent budget reduction and the loss of 2,000 jobs - we warned the corporation's management that it would damage the quality of journalism.
"Morale is already at an all-time low. These job cuts come on top of the 7,000 jobs already lost since 2004. This year 140 jobs in BBC news went: the eighth consecutive year of cuts.
"The decision by former director general Mark Thompson, behind closed doors, to agree to a licence fee freeze until 2017 and to take on an extra £340 million in spending commitments, including the funding of the World Service, local TV and the rollout of fast broadband, was a disaster for the BBC.
"This has been compounded by the way BBC senior executives have implemented the cuts. They have chosen to cut staffing and budgets in frontline journalism; news has been particularly badly hit. Rather than hack away at the fleshy layers of management, they have chosen to cut at the sharp end and inevitably that will make it harder for quality, thorough journalism to flourish.
"BBC journalists are preparing to take industrial action before Christmas over compulsory redundancies at the Asian Network. This national radio station, which serves the whole of the Asian community, has had its staff halved and will have to move from Leicester to studios in London. It is a measure of how the BBC management has lost its way. It is a disgrace that the Asian Network, which is a launch pad for new Asian talent, is being treated this way and flies in the face of the BBC's commitment to serving diversity as a public service broadcaster.
"Journalists are losing their jobs because the BBC says it does not have the money – but it seems the BBC Trust is able to find £450,000 as pay-off for the 54 days of George Entwistle's term as director general, double his contractual rights. It beggars belief.
"Even flagship programmes have not been ringfenced - at Newsnight, for example, the budget in real terms has halved over the past five years and the number of reporters and senior journalists has been cut relentlessly. These are simple facts.
"In BBC Scotland, management has set a target of 35 job losses, with about half of those coming from News and Current Affairs. With the forthcoming referendum on independence and the Commonwealth Games in Scotland, there's a need for more journalists not fewer.
"The DQF cuts are threatening not only the quality of journalism at flagship programmes such as Newsnight. Local radio and TV struggle on shoe-string budgets, the BBC has closed five of its 32 World Service language services and the number of documentaries will be reduced from four weekly strands to three.
"With fewer journalists, many employed on a casual basis, it means there is no time for that extra telephone call, no time to double-check the facts, no time to reflect properly before a programme goes out. The current re-grading proposals could see a situation where a someone can be paid the minimum of £15,000 and end up in charge of sensitive political report or even output a whole programme and then get blamed when it goes wrong.
"It's testament to the great journalists working at the BBC that they manage, often through sheer goodwill and professional commitment, to get the job done despite staff shortages and dwindling resources. But the pressure this puts on journalists and journalism is undeniable.
"There must be a moratorium on these cuts. This should be a wake-up call to the BBC – it needs to take the opportunity to halt the assault on frontline journalism and put in place measures to shore up news and current affairs before it is too late.
"Individual journalists must not be scapegoated for what is a failure of management. Lord Patten must take a long hard look at what has happened and why. And he must ultimately take on a director general who will fight for quality journalism, rip up DQF and take a strategic view to ensure that this great institution has the future it deserves," Michelle Stanistreet concluded.

Cover of BBC cuts - there is an alternative leafletBBC Cuts there is an alternative. Read the Federation of Entertainment Unions' booket.

Tags: BBC, broadcasting, cuts, newsnight