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BBC stars warn over strike 'bias' risk
Friday, October 1 2010, 11:39 BST
By Andrew Laughlin,


BBC News presenters including Jeremy Paxman, Huw Edwards and Nick Robinson have warned unions that next week's planned strike action threatens the BBC's impartiality.

The first of two 48-hour walkouts over changes to the BBC's pension scheme is due to start next Tuesday during the Conservative Party conference, and will coincide with David Cameron's keynote speech on Wednesday.

In a letter sent to the National Union Of Journalists, the BBC stars warned that staging a strike during the Tory conference "risks looking unduly partisan - particularly when none of the other party conferences have been targeted".

The signatories, including Jon Sopel, Peter Allen, Emily Maitlis, Jim Naughtie, Carolyn Quinn, Michael Crick, Laura Kuenssberg and John Pienaar, claim to have been unable to attend recent NUJ branch meetings about the proposed strike, but now wanted to make their "position clear".

"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," the letter said.

"This is no comment on the proposed retrospective changes to the pension scheme which have caused widespread anger in the BBC nor is there any disagreement with the principle of strike action. However, we are clear that the choice of strike dates is counterproductive."

However, Ian Pollock, chair of the NUJ's BBC London branch, noted that 11 out of the 32 signatories of the letter "do not appear" to be members of the union.

He also refuted any suggestion that the union is targeting the Conservative conference rather than the Liberal Democrats or Labour due to ideological reasons.

"The other political conferences would have been targeted too but fell outside our scope because of the long-winded niceties of calling strikes," he said.

"Not one NUJ member anywhere, to my knowledge, has suggested we target the Tories 'because we don't like them'. They simply happen to be the first in line of any number of high-profile broadcasting events."

He added: "If you have any better tactical suggestions for conducting the strikes then all NUJ representatives will be glad to hear them. But I have to tell you that taking Shaun The Sheep cartoons off air will not cut the mustard."

Today, the NUJ will join fellow unions Bectu and Unite for a meeting to reach a final decision on whether to forge ahead with the strike action.

However, early ballots among members indicate widespread support for industrial action, with one gaining a 20 to 1 vote in favour of the strike.

Yesterday, BBC director general Mark Thompson warned staff planning to strike not to give the "misleading impression" that they are not impartial. He also said that the public should always get "undisrupted high quality services" from the BBC.


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BBC stars warn over strike 'bias' risk





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