Labour under fire for BBC botcott

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

LABOUR politicians came under fire yesterday for refusing to appear on BBC radio or television during the 24-hour strike by journalists and production staff which caused widespread disruption.

The exception was the live appearance of David Blunkett, Labour's health spokesman, on Question Time last night. A BBC press officer said the programme, which also featured David Hunt, the Secretary of State for Employment, was made by an independent production company for BBC1 and not recorded on BBC premises. 'He wouldn't have crossed a picket line to go to this production,' the spokesman added.

But Conservative politicians argued that Labour politicians had scored an 'own goal' by their absence at a time when they had the opportunity to comment on five by-election results. Tories declared that the boycott would remind electors that the Opposition was 'in hock' to the unions.

Leaders of the National Union of Journalists and the production union Bectu are expected today to endorse further action on Sunday which will hit the coverage of results of the European election.

The stoppage, which was due to finish at 9am this morning, was less disruptive than the first 24-hour strike on 24 May, according to management. The unions, however, said it was more severe in some areas.

There was a feeling both sides might be digging in for a long dispute which could affect coverage of Test cricket, the World Cup soccer and Wimbledon.

Live tra nsmissions and news services were hit yesterday, with radio suffering the worst disruption. Managers said they were able to persuade a significant number of staff to cross the picket lines to cover the by-elections.

Peter Snow, BBC election presenter, told strikers it was the first time in 32 years he had defied the NUJ by crossing picket lines. Live Coverage of the Stella Artois tennis tournament in London went ahead on BBC2.

At the centre of the dispute is the corporation's plan to introduce performance-related pay and devolve decisions on employment conditions to departments.

The BBC said it was considering disciplinary action if the strikes continued at the weekend.