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York Newsquest journalists use Data Protection Act

8 May 2009

Journalists at The Press and Gazette and Herald in York have been forced into legal action to find out how well their employer thinks they are performing.

Newsquest (York) Ltd carried out assessments of all editorial staff ahead of its recent redundancy process, but refused to tell staff what score they got or who scored them. The journalists are using the Data Protection Act to demand to see their scores and to see the names of their assessors.

Members of the NUJ chapel at the newspapers have submitted official requests under the legislation, requesting that:

  • They are shown their full assessment
  • They are given the names of their assessors
  • The scores are subsequently destroyed

Management initially said it would be "unhelpful" to give staff their scores and declined to do so. In formal responses to the journalists' letters, managing editor Steve Hughes has now promised to give staff their scores within 40 days of their request, in line with the Data Protection Act.

The union is continuing to fight for their assessors' names and for the subsequent destruction of the scores.

Tony Kelly, joint father of the chapel, and Gavin Aitchison, acting joint father of the chapel, said:

"Newsquest used a scores matrix to assess all staff earlier this year. As a union, we believed the process was inherently flawed because it involved staff whose jobs were on the line assessing their colleagues.
"We unequivocally opposed the matrix but given the company chose to press ahead with its use, our staff have a legal right to see those assessments, to know who they were judged by, and – once the redundancy process is complete – to have those scores destroyed.
"The Data Protection Act gives individuals certain rights that cannot be ignored. Newsquest may kowtow to the demands of its American owners but it is subject to British law. It is disappointing we have had to go this far over what should have been an un-contentious request, but we know we have right on our side and are confident that the Information Commissioner shall find in our favour if it goes that far."

The NUJ members in York have submitted separate, but identical, requests for information.

They cite part of the UK Data Protection Act that says an individual is entitled "to have communicated to him [or her] in an intelligible form, the information constituting any personal data of which that individual is the data subject, and any information available to the data controller as to the source of those data."

Another part of the act states: "Personal data processed for any purpose or purposes shall not be kept for longer than is necessary for that purpose or those purposes."

The act gives the company 21 days to respond to a request and 40 days to provide the data requested.

The Press was founded in 1882 as the Yorkshire Evening Press. It became a morning paper in 2006, and was then renamed The Press.

The recent round of redundancies saw seven staff leave, including three compulsorily. Of those three, two were NUJ members.

The paper ceased to be printed in York in January. It is now printed in Bradford.

Since last summer, Newsquest York Ltd has shed a significant number of workers, including: two editors, one deputy editor, 22 printing staff, 17 drivers, three reporters, two sub-editor, one ad-features writer, one graphics artists, eight pre-press staff, two reception staff, and several jobs in the advertising department.

Tags: , newspapers, newsquest, data protection act, gazette & herald, york press, legal action, local newspapers, redundancies, chapels, information commissioner, york