Howard moves to support Meridian staff

A statement is due about the future of Meridian’s New Hythe studios

New Tory leader Michael Howard has joined other MPs in his area to support journalists threatened with job cuts at Meridian Television.

In an unprecedented act from a Leader of the Opposition, Howard has tabled an early-day motion warning that proposed job cuts and relocation of news operations by the station’s owner, Granada, could “threaten the quality of news” in the region.

Howard, MP for Folkestone and Hythe, tabled the motion on Wednesday. It was filed ahead of a statement expected from Meridian Television’s managing director, Lindsay Charlton, to staff at 1pm on Thursday about the fate of journalists and the New Hythe studios.

There has been speculation that up to 185 jobs are at risk at Meridian. But the company insisted numbers could be determined only after consultation.

Howard’s motion read: “That this House expresses concern at the proposal by Meridian Television to move broadcasting news from Maidstone, Kent; believes that relocating the news studio to Southampton would threaten the quality of news coverage in Kent; and calls on the company to protect the local involvement and the local level of news service by keeping a studio in Kent.”

Although Howard acted in his role as constituency MP, it is unusual for a frontbencher to put his or her name to a Commons motion. He was joined by fellow Tory frontbenchers and Kent MPs Damian Green (Ashford), the Shadow transport minister, and Shadow trade minister Julian Brazier (Canterbury).

But Meridian said Howard had declined an invitation in October to attend a meeting to discuss its plans.

“He has never approached Meridian for clarification of the situation, but if he had, he would have learned that the company is planning a multi-millionpound digital investment in regional news, that it remains committed to maintaining three separate subregional news services, and a news gathering operation and studio facility in Kent,” said a spokeswoman.

Labour MP Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) also tabled a motion expressing disquiet at not having been informed of Meridian’s “arbitrary changes to news gathering and broadcasting” and asked regulator ITC to extend its consultation period.

 

By Wale Azeez and David Rose

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