BBC WORKERS across Britain staged lunchtime protests on Thursday of last week, following their spontaneous walkouts a week earlier over the Hutton whitewash. The mood of anger against the government, and the BBC governors who had issued a grovelling apology to Blair, was clear. So too was a determination to resist government attempts to exercise even more control of the BBC.
Hundreds of workers gathered outside the BBC's TV Centre in west London, to hear speeches from leaders of the NUJ journalists and Bectu admin and technical workers' union, as well as Labour MP Austin Mitchell. 'We want to defend the independence of the BBC' said Dan Satdev, an admin worker.
Alan Burr, a TV producer, agreed, 'We are worried that pressure from the government could lead to stories being toned down.' Lorraine, a longstanding BBC worker, said, 'Journalists are there to put difficult questions to politicians and people in power, and the way the government is behaving could lead to journalists being frightened to do that.'
At the BBC's Bush House in central London some 150 workers, mainly from the World Service, rallied. The protest was addressed by speakers form the NUJ, Bectu and Labour MP Alice Mahon. Film producer Ken Loach also spoke, as well as offering his support and solidarity.
He pointed out that the BBC's record of impartial journalism was not always brilliant, pointing to the 1984 miners' strike and the 1926 General Strike. He argued that the government and BBC governors were always trying to influence the news and it was the responsibility of workers to fight to produce honest reports in the face of this pressure.
In Glasgow nearly 50 workers joined a rally outside BBC Scotland's main site. 'We really need to bear in mind that the public are with us,' said Pete Murray, national executive member of the NUJ union. And there was applause when Pete Murray said, 'We don't want to allow Murdoch to get his hands on the licence fee. The changes we should be talking about at the BBC are democratising it, having elected reps from the trade unions on the board of governors.'
Workers from BBC Radio York held a lunchtime protest in the centre of York. Colin Hazelden, the local NUJ rep, said 'It's important that the government doesn't use the Hutton report to rein in the BBC. We don't want to go back to the 'Thank you, minister' school of journalism'.
Some 30 staff joined the national walkout at the BBC offices in Hull. The protesters shouted 'Hutton report-whitewash'. BBC workers in Leeds also protested. One worker, Richard Walsh, said, 'Hutton was amazingly one-sided-it's as though Blair wrote it himself. Blair is more Tory than the Tories.'