Saturday, 2 October 2010

BBC Strike - Right in Principle, Wrong in Practise

I'm a fan of the BBC. There, I've said it.

In fact, I support the BBC License Fee. There, I've said that too.

I always have been a fan of the BBC and I'm happy to pay my license fee on an annual basis. Why? Well, I'm rather proud of this rather unique institution that we have which strives to provide us with good quality programming. A service which strives to deliver impartial, cutting edge political discourse.

You don't like paying the fee? You want to scrap it? Then that's fine. But just you remember that the alternative is a great risk. A very great risk. The alternative is an open market service that will be at the beck-and-call of it's owners and their own political and cultural agenda.

My News, Not their News
Do I want a Fox News based service here in the UK? No, I don't. Do I want a service ran by a small group of wealthy individuals such as Rupert Murdoch? No I don't.

Do I want a service which is designed for all and not for the few? Yes I do. Am I willing to pay for that privelege? Yes I am.

BBC Staff Strike
I've therefore been rather concerned to read about the potential BBC 2-day strike next week during the Conservative Party Conference. The unions that represent the camera crews, engineers and journalists, Bectu, Unite and the NUJ had called the strike in protest at the ending of the BBCs final salary pension scheme. The management announced a 1% limit on future pension increases to fill what is claimed to be a £1.5bn hole in their pension fund.

The staff have a right to protest and a right to strike if they feel that such a move is required to make their point. Indeed, feelings are not unreasonably running high. I was speaking to one member of the BBC in west Wales yesterday and it's clear that there's an anger at the Corporation's decision. Specifically there's a feeling that those who put the programmes together are taking the hit as opposed to the management and the high profile stars we see on the screen with their high salaries. Personally, I'd be much happier seeing those on the factory floor who are putting the BBC programmes on the air getting their fair share than seeing the ridiculous sums that have been paid in the past to 'personalities' such as Johnathan Ross. Admittedly, it leaves the BBC at the risk of losing star names to the commercial networks who can offer more, but I think the BBC need to get the balance right - it certainly isn't at the moment.

Don't Make It Political
So I have much sympathy for those BBC workers who are pretty p***ed off with their management and if they feel that striking is the way forward, then good luck to them.

However, striking in the middle of the Conservative Conference is just plain wrong. Indeed, doing so during any such political event is a retrograde move.

One of the reasons I pay my licence fee is for a decent, impartial, non-partisan news service. I am not paying for a boycott of a significant political occasion. I want to hear what the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, in these austere times, has to say - even if he isn't of my party.

Thankfully in the last 24 hours, this potential strike has been put on the back-burner as a management counter-offer has come forward for the workers to consider. Yet, the threat is that the 2 day boycott could now take place on October 19th and 20th in the middle of the critical comprehensive spending review, annouced by Chancellor George Osbourne.


We have a right to know and have access to these important, newsworhy developments that will directly impact on our lives. I've paid for the BBC to tell me all of this - I don't expect to have to resort to Sky News to find out what's happening.

So it annoys me greatly that the Unions are pushing for these dates. To me it stinks of partisan manouveres. It is to Ed Miliband's great credit then that he came out yesterday against the strike in the middle of Tory Conference week. As he rightly said:

"Whatever the rights and wrongs of the dispute, they should not be blacking out the prime minister's speech. My speech was seen and heard on the BBC and in the interests of impartiality and fairness, so the prime minister's should be."

Spot on Ed. It's a shame that the Unions disagreed with him. Bectu's response was quite incredible:

"As a Labour Party affiliate, Bectu places on record its dissatisfaction with Ed Miliband's statement. The leader's intervention is not helpful and is dismissive of our actions as a responsible trade union which has been negotiating with the employer on this issue for three long months."


You have the right to strike and it's understandable that you want maximum exposure. But don't do that in a way that prejudices and puts into question the BBC's very political neutrality.

It goes without saying, that this whole episode and this reponse from Bectu, infuriates me.

Listen to Nick Robinson
As much as I can't stand the man, Nick Robinson and his fellow 30 senior BBC journalists who signed a letter requesting a change of tact, are correct.

If the desire is to have maximum impact, then the unions need to strike at a time BBC audience figures are at their peak. As it's the live programming that will particularly suffer from any strike, why not for example, strike on a weekend when 'Strictly Come Dancing' should be on our screens? It will have a great impact and will make the point but will not threaten the BBC's reputation for fairness and potentially give it an impression of political bias.

The Tories hate the Beeb
It's for their own good too. At the end of the day, the Tories have never liked the Beeb. It's considered too 'liberal' or too 'lefty'. The worst thing that the Unions could do would be to antagonise the Tories now that they're back in power and give them an extra excuse to make changes to the BBC's Charter.

Have your fight with the management, but don't do it in a way that could damage the BBC in the long-run.

It's in no-one's interest to see a diminished BBC - particularly the unions. They need to see sense and strike at a time when they can maximise their protest, without risking the BBC's hard earned reputation for political fairness and impartiality.

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