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UTV stars fear for jobs as bosses swing axe

By Maureen Coleman

Some of Northern Ireland’s best known presenters are facing the chop as part of a massive cost-cutting cull at UTV in Belfast.

Three flagship shows — Insight, UTV Life and Late and Live — are being axed leaving the presenters |unsure about their futures, while the station’s top team of news journalists, features and sports reporters will also be “significantly |reduced”.

Among the names affected by the drastic job-cutting |exercise are Tina Campbell, Frank Mitchell and Pamela Ballantine.

It is understood features editor Jeannie Johnston and sports editor Adrian Logan are also in the firing line.

At editor level, staff were told they would have to lose two out of five positions — editor of news gathering, |executive producer of news output, features editor, sports editor and executive producer of current affairs.

The sports department was also informed that it is to be reduced by one.

Two out of the four main presenters’ jobs will also go, leaving Frank Mitchell, Paul Clarke, Tina Campbell and Pamela Ballantine on |tenterhooks. And in news and current affairs, up to eight jobs are set to go.

It is understood the only safe positions within news and current affairs are Ken Reid’s political correspondent’s post and Jamie |Delargy’s business title.

But the station also |announced plans to hire three new cross-platform journalists a part of the shake-up.

In a further memo issued yesterday, staff were told the deadline for Voluntary Severence had been extended to November 14.

One UTV insider described the mood within the company as “desperate” and said everyone was “frightened and concerned about the future”.

“It’s terrible, nobody feels safe at the moment,” said the source. Everyone is |concerned about what this means for their futures and for their families.”

“These people facing the chop have given their lives to UTV and then this is the way they are treated.”

Another UTV insider said the cull was aimed at high earning people who had given long years of service to the station.

“They can get rid of so many loyal employees, people who have sweated blood and tears for UTV, then go and take on these cross-platform journalists for a lot less pay,” they said.

“Yet these journalists and presenters who could be losing their jobs are experienced, talented people, known and loved by UTV viewers across Northern Ireland.

“Then, as if they weren’t pointing the gun at their heads enough, management say that the new deadline is November 14.

“But that if they don’t get the numbers they want, they’ll just tap people on the shoulders and give them a reduced severance package.

“What’s happening is a disgrace. Everyone’s very upset. There were a lot of tears yesterday. These are very frightening times at UTV.”

Employment Minister Sir Reg Empey expressed concern at the news of the job losses at UTV and said he would be raising the matter with his party’s representatives within the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure.

“This is in stark contrast to the decision by the BBC to invest in some additional programming in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“The success of UTV has been its ability to reflect local opinion and local stories and give people here a sense of belonging.

“Therefore, not only is the loss of jobs regrettable but it is inevitable that there will be loss of local content.”

Michael Wilson, managing director of UTV Television, said: “As part of our ongoing review of UTV programming following Ofcom’s announcement, we wrote to all UTV Television staff offering them a voluntary severance programme and have met with the team to outline our proposed plans.

“This is aimed at taking into account UTV’s anticipated staffing as we restructure our business and programme requirements for 2009.

“In recent months all major broadcasters have announced job losses. UTV has been successful in outperforming the market in terms of both advertising and audience. However we now must make difficult decisions to ensure we remain able to deliver quality public service programming in a challenging economic environment.

“We are very proud of our local programming and our commitment to a sustainable level of high quality production for Northern Ireland remains as strong as ever.”

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