Thousands of BBC journalists have begun a 24-hour strike against compulsory redundancies, leaving flagship programmes like Radio 4's 'Today' off-air.
Listeners tuning in to the peak-hour news show, which helps set the agenda for the day, this morning heard an announcement that industrial action had hit it - and instead were offered a recorded lecture by Burmese activist and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
One picket commented to Ekklesia: "At least BBC management have a sense of humour, I suppose. The Corporation is attempting to stamp on workers' rights here, but it gives a voice to calls for human dignity elsewhere in the world."
Meanwhile, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has accused the corporation's top managers of wilfully avoiding talks to head off today's stoppage.
NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet joined the picket line at BBC Television Centre, London W12, at midnight as journalists walked out to begin their industrial action. NUJ members at BBC national, regional and local centres across the UK will be on strike until midnight tomorrow night.
Michelle Stanistreet commented: “Union representatives have tried hard to resolve this serious dispute through negotiation. We have even agreed to use the ACAS conciliation service to try to find a way forward. But BBC senior management has shown no real interest in negotiations. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that BBC management wants thousands of its journalists to go on strike tomorrow, rather than settle the dispute."
“If that is the case it confirms our members’ worst fears about the management strategy of introducing compulsory redundancy at the BBC," Ms Stanistreet continued. The massive vote for strike action by journalists across the BBC reflected their fear for the future as well as their solidarity with colleagues already being targeted and singled out for the sack."
“Management indifference to settling our dispute suggests that our members’ concern that many more redundancies are planned is fully justified.
“We have offered to meet the BBC next week or when it’s convenient to the BBC, and have asked management to extend the leaving dates of those individuals immediately affected by redundancy in order to allow the talks to take place. Management has refused. We also offered to meet with the BBC at ACAS today. Management has refused.
“By the deliberate BBC decision to provoke this strike action, journalists will lose a day’s pay and audiences will suffer for a dispute that is so easily avoidable. The BBC stance looks stubborn and provocative. It seems commonsense has been replaced by obstinacy.
“The BBC is a crucial public service yet BBC management has clearly set its face against the negotiation process and is prepared to push through these unfair cuts at the expense of staff, and without caring about the impact upon millions of listeners and viewers," the NUJ General Secreatray said.
The union says it has given the BBC "five simple ways to stop the strike", all of which have been refused. These are:
* Extending the leaving dates of those immediately at risk to allow for further talks.
* Agreeing to release volunteers.
* Cutting the red tape when it comes to redeployment and making it happen.
* Using vacant posts to offset the costs of employing those at risk.
* Applying fairness across the BBC and treating people the same - wherever they work.
Ms Stanistreet continued: “These cuts and job losses have been brought about directly by a decision to freeze the licence fee for the next six years. This was a shabby deal done by BBC management and the government behind closed doors last Autumn, with no democratic scrutiny or transparent discussion. We know Rupert Murdoch and News International executives were exerting huge influence on key government figures.
"The hastily reached deal marked a watershed in the Corporation’s history and has led to the axing of vital language services at the BBC World Service and the imposition of 20 per cent spending cuts across the BBC. It is vital that the dodgy licence fee deal should now be re-examined as a matter of urgency in light of recent developments. The deal should be undone and there should be the proper transparent and open debate with staff and stakeholders about the future funding of the BBC that was called for – and ignored by the government – at the time.
“The BBC, as a public sector broadcaster, has an obligation to the public to accept its share of responsibility to resolve a dispute which it has created and to act responsibly to seek a resolution,” she concluded.
* National Union of Journalists: http://www.nuj.org.uk/