NUJ statement on the BBC as journalists prepare to strike 

  • 12 Mar 2023

The broadcaster must recognise the damaging impact of recent decisions and engage fully with the union, to reach a solution in the dispute over cuts to local radio.

On Friday, the BBC announced Gary Lineker would be stripped of presenting duties of Match of the Day until a position could be reached on his use of social media. The decision was met with disillusion and uproar by many and plunging the BBC into what the NUJ described as "a crisis of its own making.”

Commenting on the widening impact on staff and freelance journalists and presenters and the forthcoming strike action by NUJ members across BBC Local, Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:

“This whirling chaos is creating profound damage to the BBC’s reputation, something that is causing mounting concern and frustration amongst journalists across the corporation.  Freelance and staff journalists and presenters at the BBC have been put in a stressful and invidious position this weekend, with no sign of this crisis abating.

“Many NUJ members have been asking the question this weekend - where is the Chairman? Not out there batting for the BBC and its reputation, that’s for sure. Richard Sharp has ducked for cover, because his own behaviour and poor conduct is part of the crisis facing the BBC. How can the Director General’s decision on Gary Lineker have any standing when the BBC’s own Chair is a major Tory donor and kept secret his role as £800,000 loan-fixer for the then-Prime Minister? His appointment by the select committee tasked with assessing his suitability for this important role has been tainted by this clear conflict of interest. The government’s own inquiry appears to be kicked into the long grass despite the government, not the BBC, being responsible for his appointment and continuing role. The same political figures who were demanding Gary Lineker’s scalp last week have stayed silent on Richard Sharp’s culpability.  

“The handling of this has created a wholly unnecessary crisis. If assurances were given to Gary Lineker earlier in the week that this matter would all be resolved, yet come Friday he’s suspended – it seems highly likely that the external clamour and noise, much of it from those who are no friends of the BBC, led to that decision. 

“Instead of this weekend’s news focussing on an issue of significant public interest - the government’s proposed Illegal Migration Bill – the spotlight is on a crisis of the BBC’s own making. This is a piece of legislation that has drawn legitimate concerns across our society, just today the Archbishop of York described the bill as “cruelty without purpose” and “immoral and inept”. The NUJ is one of over 350 organisations – unions, legal groups, charities, businesses – all coming together to register collective concerns over the impact this law could have on vulnerable people seeking safety. It should be possible for matters of human rights to be expressed and debated without them becoming sticks to beat the BBC with over its obligations on impartiality – responsibilities that journalists across the BBC’s news output strive to uphold on a daily basis.

“This is a moment to reflect on the role of our public service broadcaster and to remind ourselves that the BBC has to be able function free from political interference and meddling. Yet instead it has seen its licence fee settlements exploited by successive Tory governments, leaving the BBC with additional financial obligations, including free licences for the over 75s and funding of the World Service, against a backdrop of political threats to scrap the licence fee and the critical principle of universality.

“BBC journalists care deeply about public service broadcasting and the Reithian principles that underpin the BBC. NUJ members working at BBC Local across England are taking industrial action on Wednesday and Thursday in a 24 hour strike that is about the future of quality local news in the many diverse communities the BBC serves. Plans to axe radio shows and reduce resources have caused dismay and anger amongst NUJ members who know the true value of trusted local news.

“The BBC’s much-vaunted Digital First strategy should not be implemented at the expense of news and content that is genuinely local and accessible. At the heart of these plans, there is a funding issue created by the government’s decision to freeze the licence fee, but it also lays bare a deeper question of what the BBC’s role and purpose is in a digital age. At a time of polarised debate, where high levels of distrust are cynically whipped up in echo chambers amplified by algorithms, a public service broadcaster like the BBC should be prized and protected, not hollowed out or left vulnerable to the whims of any government of the day.”

“Rather than allow even more programme cuts and cancellations to kick in come 11am on Wednesday, the NUJ calls on the BBC to engage fully with the concerns of members who work across BBC Local, and come up with a workable compromise and sustainable solution.”


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