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These are incredibly tough times for quality journalism across Britain, and cuts at the BBC -- the country's flagship broadcaster -- are making things even worse.
Under pressure from the government, the BBC is planning a programme of 2,000 compulsory redundancies. Investigative journalism and coverage of current affairs are among the areas that will suffer. Already under the scheme 1,400 news posts have been cut. In addition, more major sports events will be lost to pay TV.
Local radio cuts will damage the BBC's reach to local communities. In addition, whole nations will suffer. In Scotland, where I live and work, some 100 to 120 jobs could go. BBC Wales also stands to lose more than 100 jobs in Bangor and Cardiff. There are cuts to services in Northern Ireland, too, as well as to the Asian Network and to the World Service.
These are short-sighted and damaging decisions. The BBC gets and deserves strong scrutiny. Here at Ekklesia we have sometimes been critical of the Corporation over its coverage of welfare, benefits and disability issues, over Israel-Pakestine output, and more. But whatever its shortcomings, the Beeb is still one of the finest news organisations in the world, and its public service ethos is something that needs not just to be protected, but to be developed.
Undoubtedly, the BBC, like the judiciary at the moment, has enemies within government. There are those who would like to see it cut and reduced to an extent where it cannot compete with and challenge the big corporate interests that some politicians secretly (and some not so secretly) support.
The dominance of the media by an unaccountable elite of the wealthy and powerful is a threat to democracy, just as an arms-length, publicly funded service like the BBC is a vital part of the media plurality we need.
I am proud to be an active member of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), and fully support my colleagues taking industrial action today. They would, of course, much rather be working; and that is precisely the point.
There can be no doubt that the BBC needs major reform. But that should be about simplifying management, increasing participation and accountability, enhancing professionalism, providing job security, reducing costs at the top (not in the places where programmes are developed and made), and extending creativity -- rather than creating a climate of austerity and fear.
* More information about the issues behind the dispute can be found here: http://www.nuj.org.uk/innerPagenuj.html?docid=2293
* The NUJ is collecting messages of support via its publicity email: email@example.com
* Messages can also be tweeted on thehashtag #BBCStrike
* The BBC Trust can be emailed about cuts putting the quality of BBC journalism at risk: firstname.lastname@example.org
* Local MPs can be asked to sign the BBC redundancies Early Day Motion (EDM) in parliament: http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2012-13/1071
© Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia. He first joined the National Union of Journalists in 1982, is a member of the Edinburgh Freelance Branch of the NUJ, and represents the branch on the Edinburgh TUC. He was a Scottish NUJ delegate at the STUC last year -- where he successfully proposed the motion calling for a Scottish government enquiry into the state of the nation's media: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/16601Tweet