BBC programming suffers as thousands of staff walk out

By Caitlin Pike

BBC journalists joined picket lines from Kabul in Afghanistan to
Orkney in the Scotland on Monday as they demonstrated against cuts that
could lead to 20 per cent of BBC staff losing their jobs, some through
compulsory redundancy.

In the biggest strike action the BBC has seen in more than a decade,
38 per cent of staff were confirmed by the corporation to have walked
out – but the three unions involved put the figure at 55 per cent and
said nearly all their members supported the strike – about 13,000 staff.

NUJ
general secretary Jeremy Dear paid tribute to the thousands of staff
who took industrial action: “Monday’s 24-hour strike was a huge success
and showed that BBC staff are courageous professionals who are willing
to put themselves on the line to defend the quality of BBC programmes.

“This
day has showed clearly to the Corporation’s management and to the
country as a whole that BBC staff care deeply about the future of
public service broadcasting in Britain.”

Journalists who went on strike across the country achieved their aim of causing major disruption to planned programming.

Flagship
news programmes such as Radio 4’s Today and BBC Two’s Newsnight were
kept off air and other news bulletins were either seriously reduced or
not aired at all.

The unions claimed BBC Radio Leicester was
reduced to holding a 20- minute debate on “If your yoghurt could speak
to you, what would it say?”

because of the action. In Hull, a
picket line radio station – Strike FM – was put out by those who could
not face being off air completely.

High-profile journalists who
supported the strike included Jeremy Paxman, Jeremy Vine, Fiona Bruce
and Natasha Kaplinsky, giving less well-known presenters, such as BBC
World’s Stephen Cole, the opportunity to present the early evening news
and the News at Ten O’Clock.

Staff on the picket line at TV
Centre in London ate croissants donated by LBC. A journalist from the
BBC News website, Georgina Pattinson, had made the decision to strike
only days before.

“It wasn’t a black-and-white issue for me and I
don’t like the fact that it turns into a ‘them and us’ situation with
management,”

she said. “But, after much thought, I decided to
join the NUJ on Thursday because I don’t agree with the way we have
been treated in terms of the cuts. We haven’t been involved at all.”

BBC
World Service was a near total shutdown, as 80 staff covering regions
from Uzbekistan to Albania, Greece to China, gathered outside Bush
House chanting in more than 10 languages for a stop to the cuts. NUJ
broadcasting organiser, Paul McLaughlin, said: “Support for the strike
is incredible. For the first time, we have a picket in Orkney and
journalists are on strike in Kabul.”

Strikes were also supported
by those outside the BBC, with Chancellor Gordon Brown stopping to tell
protesters outside Millbank he “would not be doing any BBC”. The Bishop
of Liverpool, James Jones, refused to turn up for a planned interview.
Former MP Tony Benn and TUC general secretary Brendan Barber lent their
support and joined a strike rally outside Television Centre in London.

The
BBC issued a statement on Monday: “The service we have been able to
offer on live programmes, and the number of staff reporting for duty,
is slightly better than expected. The latest figures show that,
overall, nearly 60 per cent of staff due to work today have come in,
although we acknowledge that the picture across the BBC is mixed.”

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