Kiss FM sacked its leading DJ `because he was black'

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AN AWARD-WINNING black disc jockey was thrown out of his job without warning as the dance radio station he worked for tried to become more "white" and mainstream, an employment tribunal was told yesterday.

Just months after winning the Sony Gold Breakfast Presenter of The Year prize, Steve Jackson was told his services were no longer required by Kiss FM and escorted from the building by security guards.

London-based Kiss 100FM, once famous for its black dance music, sacked 20 staff last December in "restructuring" by its owners, Emap Radio, that swept all black presenters from its peak-time programming. Yesterday, Mr Jackson, 40, began his case claiming race discrimination and unfair dismissal.

The tribunal in north London was told that on 18 December 1998, Mr Jackson - the station's top DJ with a salary of pounds 80,000 a year - finished his Morning Glory breakfast show and walked his guest band to their cars. But his return to the studio was barred by a security guard who took him to see the programme controller, Mark Matthews.

He was then escorted to the boardroom where acting managing director, Dee Ford, and her financial director told him he was being dismissed immediately on "organisational and economic grounds". He was offered pounds 1,680 plus pounds 10,000 in lieu of notice as well as an ex gratia payment of pounds 10,000 if he agreed not to pursue matters. He refused all offers.

"I was shocked by this. I was upset, very quiet and subdued. I was escorted out of the building by a security guard, watched by Kiss members of staff. I was not allowed back to get personal belongings," said the DJ, adding: "There was nothing in my behaviour that would have required me to be escorted."

Mr Jackson joined Kiss FM in 1986 when it was a pirate station. In 1990, it gained a broadcasting licence that required it to play at least 30 per cent new material. Two years later it was bought by Emap Radio.

The DJ went from strength to strength, playing black dance music and boosting audience figures until 1997 when he was offered the sought-after breakfast show. In May 1998 he won the Sony award - the industry's Oscars - and four months later the Mobo (Music of Black Origin) award.

But last year, Kiss FM was granted a new licence, which no longer required it to play new material. The presenter's barrister, Jason Galbraith- Marten, said the station felt that peak-time white presenters were more appropriate to its new mainstream image. "The decision to dismiss Steve Jackson had nothing to do with his undoubted talent as a DJ but was, in fact, based on the fact he was black," he said.

In December, the station sacked many staff as part of the restructuring. Some white presenters were offered transfers or re-employed after several weeks, Mr Jackson said. "Of all the presenters dismissed at the time, none of the non-white presenters were offered alternative employment." He said he would have been quite happy to adapt to change and play other music.

Kiss FM Radio denies race discrimination, unfair dismissal and breach of contract. It says Mr Jackson's style had become outdated and his audience figures for the key market of 15 to 24-year-olds were falling.

The tribunal was told that Mr Jackson had been given a verbal warning for misdemeanours, including criticising records from his set playlist on air and refusing to read out promotional scripts. He also referred to Mr Matthews on air as "Massive Head" and clashed with bosses over making rude jokes on his programme.

Yesterday, as he left the tribunal, Mr Jackson said: "It was something I didn't really want to do, nobody wants to take their employers to a tribunal but it was a matter of principle." He added: "The worst thing about it is that they have taken away the last dance music licence for black music in London."

The case continues.