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BBC hacks go on strike, will anyone notice?

by Scott Bicheno on 5 November 2010, 09:56

Tags: BBC

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You’ve lost the news!

The austerity measures being undertaken by the government which, barring disputes over the extent and timing, are universally accepted as inevitable, were always expected to precipitate industrial action. The public sector feels it's being punished through no fault of its own, but the discussion of whether public employees are overpaid is one for another story.

So we had firefighters walking out at the start of the week in protest at anticipated mass sackings, but they have decided not to strike today - bonfire night in case you need reminding - for fear of the public health consequences.

While my feeling is it's right that the public sector shares the pain during these tough economic times, I can understand why people working in a profession that has no competition from the private sector would feel compelled to strike. Just don't get me started on the tube strike.

Of course that's not the case for journalists. In case you hadn't realised, there's not a ton of money in media these days, with ad budgets shrinking and alternatives to the ad-funded model far from proven. But it's a fun job, and that's the reason many of us - this one included - happily do it rather than moving to, say, PR.

Most journalists work in the private sector, where the normal response to being unhappy with your pay and conditions is to negotiate directly with your employer and, if that fails, clear off and get a better job. There is, of course, one major public sector employer of journalists in the UK - the BBC - and it's here they have chosen industrial action as a negotiating tactic.

You might think, as a fellow journalist, that I'd feel some sympathy and solidarity with my comrades, but the opposite is true. I just heard someone, presumably an NUJ (national union of journalists) spokesperson, speaking on Radio 4 - which I listen to every day - saying how much more money BBC journos could get in the private sector, and I thought "what's stopping you?"

The BBC dispute is over pensions, you see. The BBC pension fund, like so many others, is way short of the amount it needs to cover its liabilities, so something has to give. There have been protracted negotiations and four out of the five unions represented within the BBC have accepted a compromise offer, with only the NUJ rejecting it.

So some BBC journalists have voted not to accept an improved offer on their pensions, when the rest of their colleagues have compromised, and the rest of the country is having to tighten its belt. I can't wait for the next BBC journalist to accuse a politician of being out of touch with the common man.

"They may manage to take some output off the air or lower its quality," said BBC director general Mark Thompson in an email to all BBC employees. "But strikes aren't going to reduce the pension deficit or make the need for radical pension reform go away. The BBC couldn't change its current position without breaking faith with the other trade unions and we just will not do that no matter how many strikes there are."

So the strikes are both self-indulgent and futile, but the thought I want to leave you with is: what is the effect on wider society of BBC hacks withholding their labour? Will bonfire night mishaps go unattended? Will people have to walk to work? Will rubbish go uncollected and the dead unburied? Will civil society grind to a halt? The answer to all of these questions is, of course, no.

I'm genuinely baffled as to what the BBC hacks think they will achieve by this strike. If anything I should be grateful; a fall in news output from the beeb means people will have to go elsewhere for their content, which might mean more traffic for us - hurrah!

One beneficiary will be Planet Rock, which I re-tuned to upon hearing the solemn announcement on Radio 4 that they'd lost the news. It's called choice, and if BBC journos feel like joining the private sector, where they might find audience harder to acquire without the backing of a tax-funded national broadcaster, they too have that choice.


HEXUS Forums :: 15 Comments

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It might be nice to see the news read by the BBC comedy department…
Get Jeremy Clarkson to do it! Or maybe The Stig.
Nothing but a mild annoyance. Kinda like the royal mail strikes but less so.

Arrogant Priggs.
I might have and simpanthy, but when I heard a no name presenter/reporter on BBC News 24 let out she got 100k a year, I have to admit I think the lot of them are over paid. Let them keep the final salary and give them all a 25% pay cut if they earn over 50k, and a 50% one any money over 100k. It really does not take that much skill to read from a autoqueue.

I read with some suprise on the BBC that Frank Skinner lost over a million on the AIG collapse, what suprised me was the fact he had a million to lose and one of the actors from the Royal Family gave away a million to charity. We really are paying these people to much. People say we have to pay what the market is, however if everyone in the BBC wanted to go to other jobs they are not enough vacancies for them all.
I did some work for a supermarket a while ago, and the store refused to shut the shop while it was being done, so it had to be done in bite-size chunks, overnight. Obviously, big building jobs can't be done like this, but, for instance, IT upgrades often can. And the logic? Previously, in one store, they shut the store for several days to do the work, because they thought it would minimise impact on customers. The trouble was, customers still wanted their bread and milk each day, and they went elsewhere to get it. And a good proportion never came back.

The same risk applies here. Many people are used to watching various BBC news programmes, me included, but hey, if BBC news is off the air, I'll go to another station as my first choice, and who knows, I might discover I prefer it.

But I agree with Scott's attitude - if BBC journo's think they're so hard-done by in the ‘public’ sector, go try it out in the cold of the private sector. The stark reality is that if your pension pot is short, either make it up in extra contributions or accept that the payouts are going to be much less than you expected, but don't expect the taxpayer/licence-payer, many of whom will be paid less than many BBC staff, and not have a decent pension at all, to make it up for you. And if you want comparisons with the private sector, look at how many private sector pensions schemes have had to …. erm …. ‘adapt’ to the realities of the world, because they can't gouge the taypayer to bail them out.

After all, we really need doctors, teachers, police, ambulance, fire service, etc. We don't actually need the BBC. So if there's a big hole to fill in pensions, reduce staff so numbers 'til Auntie has saved enough to pay for it.