BBC journalists in Tunbridge Wells are on strike in protest at management plans to axe around half the locally made programming at BBC Radio Kent.
A 48-hour strike began yesterday (Wed 7 June) and ends on Thursday night. Staff are also still “working to rule”.
Speaking from the picket line outside BBC South East studios this morning, the National Union of Journalist’s local representative, Bob Dale, told Southborough News that the strike was having a major impact on the news output.
Bob Dale said the TV bulletins for Kent and East Sussex were being made in London, while Radio Kent’s local news was being replaced by national bulletins from BBC Radio 2.
He said that at a lobby of MPs at Westminster yesterday, politicians ranging from Conservative Jacob Rees-Mogg to Labour’s John McDonnell spoke in opposition to the BBC cuts to local radio.
Bob Dale (pictured below) said there was now universal opposition to the BBC plans from political parties at Westminster. He said: “The BBC should stop, pause this process, have some sort of local consultation and really think again about the impact this will have on communities.”
The NUJ’s Bob Dale continued: “We don’t take this strike action lightly. This is the third day’s pay that people – who don’t get paid a great deal – have given up. This is not about a pay deal for us. This is about us caring about what we do. A lot of staff could find some sort of role in the new set up, but they care so much about local radio and the service it provides that they are prepared to make these sacrifices and fight for what they believe in.”
Some BBC concessions were made in talks brokered by the conciliation service ACAS, but a new ballot of NUJ members still rejected the plans.
Bob Dale explained: “The good news for Kent, Sussex and Surrey is that they have got rid of the ridiculous idea of us sharing output with BBC Radio London over the weekend. As we stand at the moment, we will not be sharing at all with Radio London, which is good news for London and good news for us.”
He said this meant that there was more hope that Radio Kent’s most popular show, the Sunday Gardening 10am-2pm programme presented by Andy Garland (pictured below) could survive in some form, but there were no guarantees.
Bob Dale said of the BBC concession: “But it doesn’t go far enough, as far as our members are concerned. We want our local afternoon drivetime show back – one for Radio Kent and one for BBC Sussex & Surrey – at the very least. We would also like one weekend Breakfast show just for Kent and one for Sussex and Surrey.”
Bob Dale continued: “If those concessions are made, that would get it over the line, but they just don’t seem to want to offer those.”
Bob Dale concluded: “The MPs are universally opposed to these changes. They were surprised to hear about them as the BBC didn’t see fit to tell the culture secretary or OFCOM about the plans before they were announced last October. They are getting lots of letters from constituents asking why are we losing a real local service? Why are we losing some of our local presenters?”
Bob Dale also revealed that all local radio stations are set to carry a national programme after 6pm, even on weekdays when local traffic news is still highly valued at the end of the evening rush hour and many people are still listening in their cars.
A BBC spokesperson said: “We’re obviously disappointed with the result of the NUJ ballot.
“We will continue to engage with the union as we have done over the last few months in an effort to minimise the impact on our staff and our audiences.
“We have a plan to modernise local services across England – including more news journalists and a stronger local online service – which will see no overall reduction in staffing levels or local funding.
“Our goal is a local service across TV, radio and online that delivers even greater value to communities.”
Bob Dale responded sceptically to the BBC suggestion of for putting resources into new “regional hubs”, saying the NUJ had been given no idea of where Kent’s “hub” would be or how it would work. He suggested: “This seems to have been made up piecemeal.”