Newsquest cuts at the Herald and Times group in Glasgow are ‘draconian, unwarranted, and unacceptable’– but legal, the Scottish parliament heard last night.
Last night’s debate, brought by Sandra White MSP, heard 13 politicians criticise Newsquest’s plans to force 250 editorial staff to apply for 40 fewer jobs.
One MSP, Bill Kidd, even suggested a boycott of Newsquest products, saying it was ‘the only form of action that they will understand”.
But, despite the anger, Jim Mather, minister for enterprise, energy, and tourism, confirmed the cuts were legal.
MSPs had hoped the Competition Commission would step in, believing Newsquest had broken promises made to the commission when it bought the Herald and Times Group in 2003.
Mather said: ‘Unfortunately, the approach that is currently being taken is legal, although it sits very uncomfortably with Scottish values and Scottish standards and aspirations for industrial cohesion in what are challenging times.
‘I am sure that, in their heart of hearts, the local management of Newsquest know that such drastic actions play badly in Scotland. I sense both their embarrassment and a desire to find a better way.”
White, leading the debate, said: ‘Let us be clear that the process will undoubtedly result in worse pay and conditions for staff – which is clearly unacceptable given that Newsquest [the Herald and Times group] made a profit of more than £23m in 2007, bringing its total profit since 2004 close to £100m.”
David Whitton MSP – a former journalist for, among others, the Dundee Courier, The Scotsman, and Daily Record – read an email he had received from a constituent and Newsquest journalist.
‘Everyone will work for all three titles, the web, and edit videos,’the email said. ‘In effect, all three papers cease to exist as separate entities and … the quality will plummet to the lowest common denominator.
‘The daily arts page in The Herald will cease … the ABC section will be taken from The Herald to boost the Sunday Herald … [and] staff on the business section were cut long ago on the understanding they could top-up with casuals. Now the desk has been told: no more casuals.”
Patrick Harvie MSP said if Scottish government staff were treated similarly, it would be the subject of ‘anger and outrage until it stopped”.
‘That is what should happen in the case of Newsquest/Gannett,’he said. ‘Its behaviour should stop. That should be the clear message from the parliament tonight.”
Mather said he had persuaded Tim Blott, managing director of the Herald and Times group, Paul Holleran, the National Union of Journalists’ Scottish organiser, and others, to ‘come together’for a seminar.