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UTV journalists stage protest over job cuts

TV journalists protested outside their studios in Northern Ireland today over proposed job cuts.

Ulster Television reporters and presenters joined cameramen and other employees at the demonstration at the organisation's Ormeau Road headquarters in Belfast.

UTV, which broadcasts across the region on airtime obtained from ITV, is currently planning to axe around a third of its 118-strong TV division.

Management has blamed the cutbacks on the challenging economic climate and public service broadcasting proposals from the communications regulator Ofcom, which would see the channel's news output dramatically reduced.

Talks between the employers and union representatives have broken down and the company has so far declined to enter mediation through the Labour Relations Agency (LRA).

Seamus Dooley, Irish secretary of the National Union of Journalists today called on UTV managing director Michael Wilson to re-enter negotiations.

"The company has threatened compulsory redundancies and a climate of fear is pervasive throughout the organisation," he claimed.

Ofcom has proposed that UTV's news output may be cut from about five hours a week to four and that non-news output can be reduced from four hours to 90 minutes.

Changes will see the end of evening show UTV Life and the flagship current affairs programme Insight.

Politicians from all the main parties in Northern Ireland have expressed concern at the proposed jobs losses.

With the deadline for staff applications for voluntary redundancy set for the end of this month, Mr Dooley said UTV management needed to sit down and talk now.

"By agreeing to attend the Labour Relations Agency (LRA), the company could dispel the strong public impression that it disrespects workers and public representatives in Northern Ireland who, through the Northern Ireland Assembly, have urged meaningful negotiations," he said.

"By agreeing to engage in meaningful negotiations Mr Wilson could help make Christmas for UTV workers a little less miserable."

Mr Wilson responded by accusing the unions of refusing to acknowledge the economic realties that, he said, made job losses unavoidable.

"While we are disappointed that our negotiations with the unions have reached an impasse, we must move ahead with our restructuring plans as the dramatic and continuing downturn in TV advertising combined with Ofcom's proposed reduction in regional hours regrettably means we have to embark on a significant restructure of the Television division," he said.

"The union's request to conciliate via the LRA came as a consequence of their fundamental rejection of the commercial reality of the present and unfortunate situation, and, until such situation changes, we feel that there is little to be achieved by way of reconciliation at this juncture.

"In good faith we extended the deadline for voluntary severance applications until December 31 and remain willing to consider any constructive proposals which the unions may wish to put forward, even at this late stage."

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