Journalists, job losses and Question Time

In between bouts of meaningless comedy (I do have a hangover today after attending the London launch of Firefox 3 last night), I decided to be serious for a bit and watch Question Time. It was definitely an interesting show – it says a lot about the ridiculous state of British politics that the guest speaking most sense was a former Apprentice contestant (Saira Khan). Oh, and their young competition winner – sheesh! A UKIP supporter, do they really still exist?

But there was one bit that really got my blood boiling – so much that I’ve actually written to the programme. It wasn’t the “lock ’em up” logic of much of the discussion on knife crime or the stuff on the racial imbalance in police stop and search actions. No, it was an off-the-cuff jokey comment by David Dimbleby about how politicians and journalists don’t need to worry about losing their jobs while estate agents are being laid off.

What planet is David Dimbleby living on? Really, he’s the presenter of one of the BBC’s main current affairs programme, which is bad enough, but he used to be director of the Dimbleby Newspaper Group until they sold their newspaper titles to Newsquest in 2001. You really would expect him to have some knowledge of the blood-letting in the newspaper industry over the past couple of years.

Newsquest are one of the main offenders, cutting journalistic capacity to the bone across their titles to a such a degree that many are reduced to little more than collections of wire copy and press releases. It’s not as if this is a secret, this time last year their Glasgow newspapers held a series of strikes against redundancies that were destroying their newpapers.

More recently, the York dispute, also at Newsquest titles, might have been about pay, but it was against a background of continuing cuts. That’s to say nothing of the cuts in the BBC over the past two years that led to one strike and the narrow avoidance of more, which Mr. Dimbleby must surely have noticed.

Of course, one wouldn’t expect Mr. Dimbleby – who as a newspaper proprietor was unapologetic at paying journalists peanuts and maintained working conditions often denounced as Dickensian by the NUJ – to show any sympathy for journalists being tossed on the scrapheap by ruthless proprietors. But really, is it too much to ask for that a BBC current affairs presenter at least recognise the reality outside of his cosy position?

Journalism matters, Mr. Dimbleby.

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Author: Donnacha DeLong

Originally from Dublin, Ireland, Donnacha DeLong is an NUJ activist, journalist and online communications consultant with more than 15 years' professional experience.

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