Union questions Five's Sky news deal as ITN loses out

Kirsty Young remains face of Five News after Shaw’s ‘better value’ deal

The future of around 60 ITN journalists working on the Five News bulletins remained unsure this week after the news broadcaster lost the contract to provide the channel’s news service.

The NUJ also voiced concern that Sky News, the winning bidder, would not be able to provide a “distinctive” news service for Five News. However, Five has strongly refuted suggestions that journalists need fear for their futures.

Praising the work of journalists who “built a programme that is respected throughout the industry and has broken new ground” under ITN’s stewardship since the launch of Channel Five in 1997, NUJ national broadcast organiser Paul McLaughlin said the news was a “really heavy blow” to staff. He expressed concern that Sky would not be able to match ITN’s level of service.

“I’d be highly suspicious that Sky could match that in terms of its distinctiveness or putting in a dedicated service that will deliver on-screen.

One of the failings in the plans is that they seem to be indicating a heavy reliance on Sky News,” he said.

“What we don’t want is for it to be stripped out as another ‘Sky News On Terrestrial’ – unfortunately Sky’s record on this is very poor when you look at its previous incursion into terrestrial news with RI:SE.”

McLaughlin added that the union had “serious concerns about the nature of the negotiations” and whether Sky agreed “a proper price with Five for the production of this service”.

Sky News will provide the channel’s bulletins for five years from 1 January 2005, a contract thought to be worth in excess of £7m per year.

Both ITN and Five accepted there would be legal obligations to the journalists relating to the transfer of employees’ terms and conditions, when contracts are taken over.

And Chris Shaw, senior programme controller at Five, told Press Gazette: “The protection of employees’ rights in these situations has never been stronger than it is now. I think it is very unhelpful for the union to be winding people up at a time when they feel extremely vulnerable.

“There will be an open and honest consultation and transition process and to suggest otherwise is very unfair.”

ITN has done an “amazing job” over the past seven years, he added. “My last job was as an ITN person setting up Channel 5 News, so this wasn’t a particularly enjoyable experience. But moving forward, I honestly believe we’re going to get better value by going to Sky.

“It can offer us unrestricted access to its existing operation. And it’s not something that ITN is really in a position to do.”

Head of Sky News Nick Pollard said that the work for Five would “draw on new and existing resources and reflect all the authority and dynamism displayed by Sky over the past 15 years”. Sky News is RTS news channel of the year.

ITN said it lost the Five News contract because the winning bid was too low, and the broadcaster was not prepared to “compromise the quality or indeed the stability of the rest of the business, particularly after spending two years building the business back into profit”.

By Wale Azeez

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