Jones 'back-pedals' over transfer of Meridian reporters

ITV’s Jones: change of tune

The incoming chief executive of ITV’s News Division has insisted to journalists and MPs that there will be “no reduction of journalistic effort in the Maidstone area” following the decision to axe 175 jobs at Meridian Television.

Meridian journalists saw Clive Jones’s statement as “back-pedalling at a rate of knots” from the original line taken by Granada when the redundancies were announced.

“This is a major change,” said one senior journalist. “Originally they said some reporters and cameras would stay and everyone else was going.”

As a result, journalists demanded on Wednesday that Jones’s assurances be included in the document that will be submitted to staff facing redundancy during the consultation period – already delayed from last week.

Appearing before the Commons media select committee on Tuesday, Jones said: “We’re not proposing to diminish the number of journalists. All we’re talking about is moving a presenter and maybe a technical director.”

Other operations will be moved from Southampton and Maidstone to a site near Fareham by the end of 2004.

However, the NUJ, which also submitted evidence on Tuesday, said its campaign to save regional news production “was still on course”.

General secretary Jeremy Dear said journalists feared ITV would implement “a similar strategy” of cuts in the Midlands, home to studios in Abingdon, Birmingham and Nottingham.

In a new development, the union is to approach the Independent Television Commission to demand “total disclosure of its deliberations with Meridian” amid concern that the ITC was not open about the decisions that led to its approval of the job losses.

NUJ broadcast organiser Paul McLaughlin said the union was uneasy about the fact it had not been party to the ITC’s assessment.

“The ITC had no formal consultations with viewers or the NUJ,” he said.

The consultation period for the redundancies has been rescheduled to begin this Friday. Meridian is understood to have told journalists that the delay was due to insufficient details of its proposals. “It begs the question of how the ITC approved something the company itself was not yet sure of,” said McLaughlin.

It has also emerged that the ITC wrote to Tonbridge MP Sir John Stanley reassuring him that parent company Granada would retain editorial staffing levels.

Chairman Sir Robin Biggam wrote: “We’ve been given detailed information that the reporting staff in the South East will remain at its present strength in the Maidstone area, as will the camera teams. The regional editor, news editor, programme producer and several other newsroom journalists will also remain in the sub-region.”

“This is a major back-pedalling from what they said originally,” a Meridian source said.

By Wale Azeez

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