Journalists from across all services of the BBC have resolved to hold two one-day strikes next month, prompted in large part by plans to "offshore" operations for the BBC World Service's Hindi, Nepali, and Urdu programming to Delhi, Kathmandu, and Islamabad. From the Guardian:
TV, radio and online news will be disrupted on Friday 3 April and Thursday 9 April after nearly 800 members of the National Union of Journalists chapel at the BBC today voted in favour of industrial action in a national ballot.
More than 1,100 of the union's nearly 4,000 members at the corporation took part in the vote, 77% of whom voted in favour of a strike.
The most urgent threat of compulsory cuts is at the World Service's South Asian section, where up to 20 members are at risk, the union has said. Staff in Scotland are also understood to be under threat.
The NUJ general secretary, Jeremy Dear, said: "Journalists at the South Asian services have been fighting a heroic struggle against the outsourcing of their jobs ... now they have the weight of thousands of NUJ members at the BBC behind them." [link]
In late February, journalists within the South Asia services held their own one-day strike to protest the proposed restructuring. In addition to worrying about lost jobs in London, the journalists fear that shifting operations to the subcontinent would compromise the quality and independence of the BBC's coverage:
One member commented: “If the BBC’s succeeds in imposing change, the tendency will be for the output to become more and more India-centric, in the case of the India service, as they try to compete with local FM broadcasters.
“This moves away from the World Service’s USP: impartial news with a global perspective. Why should the British taxpayer end up paying for a local Indian radio station?” [link]
The International Federation of Journalists has echoed these concerns, asserting that "the BBC management's off-shoring plans will put at risk seventy years of first-class journalism and expose their journalists to political and commercial pressures beyond their control." On the eve of last month's one-day strike, John McDonnell, a Labour MP for west London, elaborated upon these concerns even further:
Under management proposals, editorial control will be ceded from the UK in favour of localised output in Nepal, India and Pakistan. Questions have been raised over the BBC's ability to retain editorial independence. Staff discovered a deal struck with the Pakistan regulatory body to give authorities in Islamabad the power to hear bulletins prior to broadcast. Although the management claim that no such arrangement exists, it is important that nothing is done that jeopardises the BBC's editorial independence. Those allegations warrant further investigation and there should be an independent Foreign Office investigation.
The reputation of the World Service has been built over decades. Millions of listeners rely upon the World Service because they trust it to be an independent voice. Localising editorial control in countries such as Pakistan and Nepal will bring unacceptable pressures to staff in those territories. While we believe that all BBC staff will fight to maintain its independence, it is in the strong interests of the BBC to ensure that its staff can act free from external influence. That is difficult enough even in this country with the constant political pressure. The threats are more direct from foreign Governments in some areas of the globe.
The BBC has set up private companies in India, Pakistan and Nepal that pave the way for localised commercial businesses. Such businesses will have to comply with local commercial law and will not be governed from the UK, as they are now. The NUJ and [the Broadcast Entertainment Cinema and Theatre Union] have been asking for details of those companies and their planned and present activities. Management has thus far failed to give any meaningful information or assurances. If the BBC offshores not only output but editorial control to overseas territories, that too will have to comply with local media regulation. The fear is that the freedom of the press is variable in such territories, and that that will impact on World Service output.
Staff who have served the BBC and the country well for decades are anxious that their professionalism and independence is under threat. If we do not act now and if the Government do not take a serious interest in this matter, we will live to regret it in future years. There must be a review of the policy of localising editorial control and an end to the dismantling of the World Service in certain parts of the globe, which we have seen over recent years. The Thai service is just one example of where we have lived to regret the withdrawal of a service in a key part of the world. It must be asserted that editorial control over World Service output will be retained in the UK and there must be an end to outsourcing in this way. Any job losses in the UK need to be negotiated to ensure that at least there is no compulsory redundancy or loss of editorial integrity and that BBC management goes forward with the wholehearted support of employees and the confidence of the wider community. [link]
However, according to the BBC:
"We want to relocate some more production to the region, which will bring us closer to both the stories and our audiences and allow us to react more quickly to breaking news. This will also give us a better understanding of the market, local competition and help us forge stronger relationships with partners," the corporation added.
The move, the BBC said, would create efficiency savings, allow essential investment in infrastructure overseas and see more jobs created in local centres than lost at the World Service's Bush House headquarters in central London.
"We want to do all we can to avoid compulsory redundancies, so we will start individual consultations with staff this month in order to gauge interest in voluntary redundancy ... We will now start the recruitment process for roles based in our international offices," the BBC added.
The relocation of World Service South Asia staff will leave a small unit for all three services based in London as online and radio operations are moved to local centres overseas. This, along with local recruitment, will mean the World Service will have 80% of the staff for its Hindi operation based in Delhi, with 50% of Urdu and Nepalese service employees based in their respective local centres [in Islamabad and Kathmandu]. [link]
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