Strike at BBC called off after unions spark row over political impartiality

11:47, October 02, 2010      

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A planned strike by BBC workers next week, which sparked criticism that the strike dates were chosen for political reasons to harm the Conservative party, was suspended on Friday.

Workers at the broadcaster BBC are angered over plans for large scale changes to their pensions, and planned to strike for two days during next week's Conservative party conference, stopping the BBC from covering the conference and the keynote speech by coalition government Prime Minister David Cameron.

The strike was suspended on Friday after talks between BBC and the unions resulted in the BBC offering better terms.

However, workers still plan a further strike on Oct. 20, the day when the government announces the details of the autumn spending review, which will see the most drastic cut in public spending since the Second World War, and which could eventually see at least 650,000 jobs lost.

Many of the BBC's star news, finance, and politics journalists signed a joint statement criticizing the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and the broadcasting union BECTU, for deliberately choosing dates that would harm coverage of the government.

The journalists, included the top TV and radio journalists, the leading news anchor, and the BBC's chief political correspondent, said "Impartiality is the watchword for the BBC's political coverage and we would not wish to give a misleading impression that this is no longer something we value highly. However, we are clear that the choice of strike dates is counterproductive."

They added, in their letter, that the planned strike next week risks looking unduly partisan -- particularly when none of the other party conferences have been targeted."

BBC Director General Mark Thompson also criticized the planned strikes and their dates. He told staff at a meeting in London "I'm also disturbed about the dates that have been chosen. It is perfectly possible for someone to believe that this is such an important proposal it may be appropriate to strike, and still be anxious about whether these are the right dates to choose to do it. "

Next week's strike was planned for Tuesday and Wednesday. It could have halted BBC coverage of Prime Minister Cameron's first speech to the Conservative conference since taking office on May 11.

The party conferences of all three main political parties -- the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats who have formed the coalition government, and the main opposition Labor party -- are all covered extensively on BBC television, radio, and online, with the most important speeches, and all those of the party leaders, carried live.

The BBC has a remit to be politically impartial in its coverage, and the letter of complaint from its leading journalists is a sign that many fear the strikes would compromise that political impartiality as their timing appears to be deliberately aimed at harming the Conservative party.

Ian Pollock, an NUJ representative, defended the strike action and said on Friday the Conservative conference had not been singled out for political reasons. He said "The other political conferences would have been targeted too but fell outside our scope because of the long-winded niceties of calling strikes."

The newly-elected leader of the main opposition Labor party Ed Miliband warned the unions that it would be wrong if strike action went ahead and blacked out the prime minister's speech next Wednesday.

This week, Miliband's own leader's speech at his party's conference was carried live on TV, radio, and Internet.

Miliband said "Whatever the rights and wrongs of the dispute, they should not be blacking out the prime minister's speech. My speech was seen and heard on the BBC and in the interests of impartiality and fairness, so the prime minister's should be."

Source: Xinhua


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