NUJ to up pressure on BBC over broadcaster’s CBI membership


  By a Newsnet reporter
The National Union of Journalists has repeated its calls for the BBC to end its relationship with a lobbying group which is an acknowledged opponent of Scottish independence.
In a series of communications seen by Newsnet Scotland, NUJ figures have expressed anger at BBC management’s refusal to end its membership of the CBI.  The union says the situation is incompatible with their own members’ duty to be impartial.

In the communications, one senior union official expresses his frustration at the refusal of the Scottish newspapers to cover the story saying: “the papers have – once again – ignored us. And largely ignored the story…”

A colleague comments, “Public opinion is what we’ll be relying on now I think.”

In what appears to be a signal that the union has had enough, another says: “It is time to step up big pressure on them [BBC] now.”

The NUJ and the broadcaster look to be on a collision course following the announcement by the BBC that it had backtracked on an earlier pledge to suspend its membership of the CBI.  The broadcaster had given the commitment after the lobbying group registered with the Electoral Commission (EC) as a formal backer of the No campaign.

The BBC’s membership of the CBI – which had been unknown – emerged days after the registration.  Annual fees to the CBI are currently in excess of £20,000.  It is estimated that around one quarter of a million pounds of public cash has been handed to the pro-Union organisation by the BBC. 

However ten days after submitting its EC application, head of the CBI John Cridland suddenly announced they had made a mistake and cancelled the registration.  Despite this, the NUJ has insisted that the CBI’s stance against independence has not altered and that the BBC must follow the decision of its STV rival and end its relationship with Cridland’s organisation.

In a draft letter to be sent to BBC Director General Tony Hall, the NUJ’s Scottish arm warns that the BBC’s links to the CBI is causing damage to its reputation and that of its journalists at BBC Scotland.

The letter reads: “…we do not see how the BBC’s membership of the CBI can be compatible with our duty of journalistic impartiality.

“The BBC, through licence-payers’ money, is helping to fund an organisation which is taking a strong position for the union, and against independence. That makes doing our job very difficult.”

The writer goes on: “I would also like to point out that the CBI did not reverse its position on the Union, it withdrew the application to be registered as an active campaigner for administrative reasons.

“Our colleagues at STV took the decision to withdraw completely from the CBI. That is what we think the BBC should do.”

The letter is the second to be sent to Tony Hall and follows a similar urging from the Union.  The previous letter, sent around one month ago, witnessed a three week delay before the Director General replied.

In the reply, received after the CBI registration had been nullified by the Electoral Commission, Hall explained that the nullification of the registration means the BBC is free to continue its membership.

He wrote: “The BBC has been a long-standing member of the CBI.  I believe that the CBI is an appropriate organisation to be involved with given its role in supporting the creative industries across the UK, where the BBC also plays a significant role.”

The BBC Chief added: “I believe that our continued membership of the CBI, now through BBC Worldwide, helps the BBC engage with and contribute to the development of the creative industries across the UK, which is vital for us as we seek to deliver high quality programmes and services to licence fee payers.”

A senior figure within the NUJ has told Newsnet Scotland that members within BBC Scotland are “raging” over the situation.

[Newsnet Comment – On BBC Radio Scotland this morning news bulletins reported the CBI had attacked independence.  No menion was made of the CBI’s well documented stance in support of a No vote, nor was there any mention of the BBC’s membership of the organisation.

Despite Newsnet Scotland’s very clear newsworthy article above, Good Morning Scotland – unlike Newsnight Scotland – appears to have imposed a blackout on its presenters reviewing this site in its morning newspaper reviews.

The article above is based on official communications seen by Newsnet Scotland.  Any reporter/journalist in Scotland seeking to verify this article can do so by contacting the NUJ in Scotland.  We have handed them this story on a plate and hereby give all news outlets permission to reproduce this article in full.  They do not have to cite Newsnet Scotland as the source.]