Socialist Worker

Revolt as BBC staff stand up to the bullies

Issue No. 1887

BBC workers have staged an unprecedented revolt over the Hutton whitewash and the government's attacks on independent journalism. The mood of many of the 24,000 BBC workers to resist has not diminished since last Thursday's spectacular walkouts over the Hutton report and Greg Dyke's departure.

Dozens of meetings held by the National Union of Journalists and the Bectu broadcasting union at BBC offices endorsed a call for two-hour protest rallies this Thursday. One BBC worker who took part in last week's walkouts told Socialist Worker: 'It was like something out of Eastern Europe when the Berlin Wall came down. An authoritarian regime forces out the manager of the state broadcaster because he has dared to allow criticism of it. The bureaucrats who run the channel-the BBC board of governors-surrender to the government. But we walked out carrying impromptu placards in an atmosphere that feels like a democratic revolution. Extraordinary. And it is far from over.'

Spontaneous protests broke out at the BBC's Television Centre in west London. These saw BBC workers taking 'illegal and political strike action', as one BBC journalist put it. BBC Online was mysteriously hacked with a spoof story that Blair had appointed Alastair Campbell as BBC boss. And it wasn't just in London.

'Regional and local offices right out in the shires were often the most militant,' says one BBC journalist. 'The protests rapidly turned into pro-Greg rallies,' says a journalist at the BBC in London. 'But it is not the main thing. He is a symbol for the feeling that we won't be scapegoated by Hutton while the government gets away with murder. The protests included people who have clashed with the management and Greg Dyke over journalistic and union issues.'

By the weekend 10,000 BBC staff had paid for a national newspaper advert pledging not to be cowed by New Labour. Greg Dyke revealed how Downing Street ruthlessly tried to suppress BBC reporting of any dissent over the Iraq war.

Dyke released a private letter to Blair showing that BBC bosses went to great lengths to broadcast a pro-war message-but even that wasn't good enough for the government. There is now a huge political crisis and a battle to defend a glimmer of free speech from an autocratic government backed by billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

That fight has been simmering within the relatively safe corridors of government and BBC top management for over a year. Now New Labour's supreme arrogance and the action of BBC workers have thrust it into workplaces, communities and colleges across the country. And those are the places that delivered the mass anti-war movement which is the root of Blair's crisis.

The movement issues a call for action

JEREMY DEAR, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, told Socialist Worker: 'We are calling on other trade unionists and the public in general to join these rallies to defend the BBC's right to investigate and hold politicians and the authorities to account. We want to stop the government interfering in the BBC. It is important that we defend the independence of the BBC at the same time as arguing for democratisation of the way it is run and a greater say for those who work there. The spontaneous walkouts by staff last week were fantastic. We hope the protests this Thursday build on that, and get more and more people involved. Management at the BBC have caved in to government pressure. It is the workforce that is showing it has some backbone.'

THE STOP the War Coalition is intensifying its activities in the wake of the Hutton report. 'We are holding a national demonstration on 20 March, the anniversary of the start of the war,' says coalition convenor Lindsey German. 'That will be an international day of protests, endorsed by the World Social Forum in Mumbai last month. There will be a week of action in the run-up to the demonstration.

Blair is due to speak at Labour's spring conference in Manchester on 13 March and we will be protesting there, with many events planned. This will all be discussed at our national conference on 28 February. But local groups are not waiting until then. They are organising public meetings and activities over the Hutton whitewash and over the attacks on civil liberties.'

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Sat 7 Feb 2004, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1887
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