Big businesses accused of 'raping' the regional press

Local and regional newspapers are being “systematically raped” by
large PLCs, according to NUJ vice president Chris Morley speaking at
the union’s Pay in the Media Summit.

The
relationship between the big newspaper companies and the City, and the
terms and conditions of NUJ members, was high on the agenda at the
summit, held in London on Saturday.

Morley referred to the “desert years”

of
derecognition from the mid-1980s, which he said had seen terms and
conditions for journalists considerably reduced. But he claimed the
tide had turned and said journalists’ pay should be put on a footing
with what it once was.

Morley said: “Over the years we have seen
the big PLCs grow up, such as Trinity Mirror, Newsquest and Johnston,
who have systematically raped the provincial press.

“Johnston is
seen as the benchmark and their profit margins are around 35 per cent.
In the nationals the Telegraph reported their figures. They made £30
million, but on a profit margin of only 10 per cent.

“We’ve got
our members subsidising the shareholders, and I think that’s something
as a union we should try and influence and bring down the expectations
of the shareholders, which drive the management to attack our members’
terms and conditions.”

NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear drew on new research the union has been conducting into pay in the media.

It
found that nearly half of journalists in the UK earn less than the
national average wage of £27,200 and that more than one in five earn
less than the Council of Europe Decency Threshold of £16,000.

It
also found that 80 per cent of journalists were unable to secure a
mortgage to buy the average house in the UK. Dear linked the figures to
the years of union derecognition throughout the press since the 1980s.

He
said: “All this at a time when our pay is being further eroded through
the closure of defined benefit pension schemes and their replacement
with inferior schemes for new starters.”

Morley pointed out that the union has a fighting fund for journalists involved in industrial action of £1 million.

Dear confirmed there would be a series of national protests over journalists’ pay in all sectors throughout the coming year.

Plea from NUJ freelance officer

HIGHLIGHTING THE PLIGHT OF FREELANCES

The
NUJ’s freelance officer Christina Zaba (left) made a plea to
journalists to consider the hundreds of freelances she describes as
“the ghost army” with few employment benefits.

She told delegates
freelances do not receive holiday pay, pensions or maternity leave and
have few colleagues around them for support.

Freelance rates have
been recorded as low as £25 per 1,000 words and £12.50 for a picture.
Delegates were reminded that fees have gone up very little over the
last 10 years and freelance budgets reduced, while costs have risen
considerably, especially for freelance photographers.

Ideas
discussed included allowing freelances to join chapels, developing
freelance forums and representation in non-freelance branches, putting
forward model claims to employers and considering no-supply days.

Zaba said: “Freelances are often on extremely low pay, they are vulnerable, they have virtually no employment rights.

“They
are mugged on a daily basis down the phone. If you are a staff
journalist, think about what you’re doing when you are doing that deal.”

She also highlighted the danger to freelances of employers using more unpaid citizen journalists.

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