News presenters urge against BBC strike

Impartiality at risk as Conservative conference targeted

LONDON -- Top BBC news presenters have urged broadcast unions not to strike during the Conservative Party conference next week, warning that it could damage the BBC's reputation for political independence.

The planned 48-hour strike had been targeted to impose a blackout on key political speeches at the conference, after government pressure to cut pension payouts at the BBC.

Prime Minister David Cameron's speech is thought to be a target.

But now top anchors including "Newsnight" presenters Jeremy Paxman, Emily Maitlis and Martha Kearney, political editor Nick Robinson, "Today" presenter Jim Naughtie and "Six O'Clock News" anchor Huw Edwards have written to the National Union of Journalists warning against the move, which they say "risks looking unduly partisan, especially when none of the other [political] party conferences have been targeted."

The letter said there were "serious concerns" about the implications of such a political act.

"Impartiality is the watchword for the BBC's political coverage and we would not wish to give a misleading impression that this is no longer something we value highly," the 32 signatories said.

But the letter has received short shrift from unions, who said an overwhelming 9-1 ratio of BBC staff were in favor of the strike and that the majority of signatories did not appear to be union members.

"Frankly, I do not take kindly to non-members trying to unpick democratically taken decisions for the National Union of Journalists," the NUJ's BBC branch-head told the Guardian newspaper.

Pollock said the strike action was not intended to single out the Conservative Party conference.

"The other political conferences would have been targeted too, but fell outside our scope because of the long-winded niceties of calling a strike."