NUJ: Belfast Telegraph squeezed as ING’s milchcow

Interesting statement from the NUJ in Belfast arguing that Anthony O’Reilly’s Independent Newspaper Group is squeezing the profitable Belfast Telegraph in order to fund the loss making Independent newspaper in London. Their statement follows in full below the fold:Invest NI conference: A statement from the NUJ in Belfast

As a major investment conference begins today in Northern Ireland one of its main supporters has come in for criticism from a union representing many of his staff in Belfast. The NUJ in Belfast said, in a statement,

“It would caution the Northern Ireland Assembly against encouraging the kind of investment” visited upon the Belfast Telegraph titles by Anthony O’Reilly’s Independent Newspapers group. This has involved the exporting of profits from the Belfast operation to subsidise the multi-million pound loss-making London Independent title.

“A job and cost-cutting programme has been imposed on Belfast which is still ongoing. Our members have been left to battle against the odds to protect editorial standards. Meanwhile O’Reilly and his fellow directors are awarded colossal pay and bonus packages each year – making a nonsense of their rhetoric on costs,” said Bob Miller, chair of the Belfast and District Branch of the NUJ and National Executive Council member for Northern Ireland.

He added: “The papers editorial staff at the Belfast Telegraph, Sunday Life and the Community Telegraph weekly chain, which are still recovering from a major redundancy programme instigated by the company two years ago, are fearful of further cutbacks.

“Editorial staff are in the middle of introducing a new production system, and they believe that there is management move to block much needed recruitment, even after advertising for posts.”

  • Reporter and sub-editor jobs advertised two months ago still have not been filled. My understanding is applicants received letters in the post telling them that because of “ongoing business plans the recruitment process has been delayed”.
    Says it all really.

  • “Our members have been left to battle against the odds to protect editorial standards”

    Editorial standards are being maintained! My god! How much lower is it possible for the Tele to sink?

  • LOL beat me to it Chekov.

    If they were being honest, they might get away with blaming the shocking decline in standards on the financial squeeze, but to claim that they’ve “protected standards” when their lazy journalists can’t even be bothered to check basic facts and write shite like this:

    “All the talk about relocating the stadium to Belfast is to miss the point that rugby and gaelic will not play there.”

    It wouldn’t take that long on Google to find this:

    “We are committed to the Maze, because it is the only thing that’s there. … if someone built a 15000 capacity stadium in Belfast for rugby and soccer to play at, I’d play at it.
    Ulster Rugby CEO Michael Reid

    Is this an illustration of the “standards” they’ve fought so hard to protect?

  • Eddie

    You are missing the point here.

    And that is this: the Editor lacks the sort of budget that would allow him to recruit – and retain – the quality of journalists that he needs to put out a good paper.

    You’d be shocked if you knew how little some reporters earn at the once-mighty Belfast Telegraph. What happens when you pay peanuts? Does O’Reilly care?

  • Mick Fealty

    Chekov and Beano,

    I think you are misquoting the statement. “Battle against the odds to protect editorial standards”, does not claim that they are maintaining standards.

  • John East Belfast

    “This has involved the exporting of profits from the Belfast operation to subsidise the multi-million pound loss-making London Independent title.”

    which is what this whole dishonest all Ireland Corporation Tax – spearheaded by the BT – is all about !!

    ie even more profits exported out of NI.

  • the digger notes

    The Digger notes with alarm the statement issued by the National Union of Journalists in Belfast warning the Assembly against encouraging the ‘kind of investment’ visited upon the Belfast Telegraph by Anthony O’Reilly’s Independent Newspapers group in recent years.
    Belfast Telegraph insiders have told The Digger they fear more redundancies and further cutbacks in Belfast are on the cards.
    And this follows a huge redundancy programme put in place by the company two years ago.
    Journalists at the Telegraph are asking Mr O’Reilly why his company operates an iniquitous form of cultural and financial apartheid towards his Northern Ireland staff.
    It’s well known O’Reilly received a knighthood for services to the peace process, but the actions of his company since acquiring Belfast Telegraph, Sunday Life and Community Telegraph has only left a legacy of division and resentment at the titles.
    Journalists and other staff in printing, advertising and admin still complain of being treated differently from their colleagues in Dublin and London.
    They feel that industrial relations are hitting an all-time low at Mr O’Reilly’s Belfast flagship.
    Belfast is a publishing centre that makes O’Reilly vast profits, yet when they seek to address their grievances and campaign for similar terms and condition enjoyed by their IN&M;colleagues in the south and in London staff, they are blocked at every stage.
    Employees wish to know why is the English-based management that controls the UK operation from London (where they oversee a multi-million pound loss-maker in The Independent) is so opposed to Belfast-based employees (who generate massive profits in Northern Ireland) improving their pay and terms and conditions.
    Northern Ireland staff feel they are the ‘poor relations’ in O’Reilly’s publishing empire.
    For nearly two decades the local management has, under mainly English control (Thomson and Trinity-Mirror), leeched away profits from Belfast, to shore up operations in England, Scotland and Wales.
    When BTNL came under southern Irish ownership, the staff felt there would have been a major sea change in attitudes towards Belfast. Unfortunately these hopes were soon dashed.
    Since taking over, O’Reilly and his son Gavin have both expressed their support of the border – because it makes for better business i.e. bigger profits.
    It seems that paying his Northern Ireland employees a great deal less than his southern or English-based employees is a key part of maintaining and supporting a low-wage economy here.
    No doubt these are the same views he will be promoting during his visit to the Invest NI conference this week.
    This is the clear perception among his staff in Northern Ireland that Dublin enjoys superior terms and conditions of employment to them.
    The pay scales alone reveal many journalists in Dublin earn 100% more than those in Belfast.
    The Belfast Telegraph group of papers and allied printing operation make the O’Reilly family more than £24m a year.
    Unfortunately the money pours out as quickly as it is generated to shore-up the London-based Independent and the UK group (which includes both Belfast and London newspapers) as a whole is making a loss of more than £6m a year.
    Now with the The Independent’s sales plummeting and its costs soaring – Belfast once again pays the price with possible expenses cutbacks, a block on much-needed recruitment in the paper’s editorial production department and the threat of more job losses.
    And the recent introduction of a new page make-up system is causing havoc with many staff having to work extra hours just to get the papers out on time.
    Employees in Belfast are not seeking more – they only want to be treated equally.
    Where is the justice, the ‘parity of esteem’ in the current arrangements, they ask?
    The O’Reilly family have been using their newspapers to call for a cut in the Corporation Tax in Northern Ireland to the same level as that in the Republic – they are only too happy to seek parity for themselves it seems.
    The politics of Northern Ireland is changing for the better, but it seems when it comes to the well-being of your own Northern Irish staff, nothing changes – depressed wages teamed with inferior terms and conditions of employment!
    Many of the staff that are now of the opinion that the O’Reilly family are actively discriminating against his Northern workforce.

  • John East Belfast

    Isnt it about time the News Letter grew itself a pair of balls and took the BT head on for the evening market ?

    I used to buy the BT every night but now at most I buy it one or 2 nights a week.

    As a unionist the market is ripe for an alternative and the NL should stop slugging it in the morning bloodbath and start their printing presses a few hours later – they would be amazed at the outcome. The value of the BT would fall like a stone overnight

  • Billie-Joe Remarkable

    “Employees in Belfast are not seeking more – they only want to be treated equally.” So, they are looking more, then?

    The Tele’s sales have been tanking for years and it has shamelessly masked its figures because it relied so heavily on the magical “100,000 sales” to bump up their ad rates. It still pretends that it caters for both communities, too. It struggles to give GAA the coverage it deserves but for decades wanked over Linfield and the many hopeless teams (Carrick, Ards, Bangor etc) attracting miniscule crowds in that excuse for a league.

    And ‘stories’ featuring heavily branded pictures of (yawn) Miss Northern Ireland or promotions ‘models’ won’t arrest the decline. It’s not all O’Reilly’s fault, regardless of what the NUJ say.

    I don’t want to see hacks and other staff dumped out of their jobs, but I do so enjoy seeing the “once mighty” Telegraph in a self-inflicted mess. Oh, yes.

  • cynic

    “Isnt it about time the News Letter grew itself a pair of balls and took the BT head on for the evening market ?

    I used to buy the BT every night but now at most I buy it one or 2 nights a week.”

    As your own position effectively says, what evening market?

    The Tele is now on sale in the morning and the ‘evening’ edition is just a rehash (if that) and a sop to the habits of a dying generation (who often want to check the notices to see if they need to get the suit out for another funeral)

    Its appallingly poor and in a market that is literally dying. Its only real future to become a free sheet where the money is in the adverts- which are extortionate. Try posting a death notice and they will charge you upwards of £70.

    Look at what’s happened in London. The Standard still survives on quality but the place is awash in free papers. All of them are poor but no worse than the Tele.



    “It’s well known O’Reilly got a knighthood for services to the Peace Process” !!!!!!!!

    Really? Did you ask Sinn Fein or anyone within the Nationalist community their opinion? I must admit I laughed when I read that one as I’m sure others did. I couldn’t help but notice Martin McGuinness looking completely non-plussed when O’Reilly took to the podium at Stormont. O’Reilly’s titles were TOTALLY hostile to the Hume/Adams talks and viciously attacked John Hume for years for this. Indeed it was ALL OUT war from Independent columnists, editorials and letters pages on the SDLP leader. To this day O’Reilly’s papers are RABIDLY anti Sinn Fein and VERY VERY cold towards the Northern Nationalist community. Indeed if you were to read his flagship Independent papers you would have thought they had been printed by a UUP/DUP coalition. EVERY week there is some nasty, sleekid attack or comment on Republicans & Nationalists from Independent journalists. In NO way could his papers be considered FAIR or IMPARTIAL regarding the Peace Process. They are and have been TOTALLY PARTISAN UNIONIST publications.

  • Lenny

    LURIG is spot on about O’Reilly’s publications being hostile to the process. The Sunday Independent had a host of writers such as Dunphy, Cruiser, Thomas A Murphy, Dudley-Edwards and Eilis O’Hanlon who hated Sinn Fein in particular and had no sympathy whatsoever for the nationalist community in general. Their treatment of Hume was shameful. Dunphy went so far as to claim that he was “terrorizing protestants” because of his talks with Adams. No politician is above criticism but their treatment of Hume went way above critical analysis.

  • interested

    I take your point about need for competition in the evening news market. However I seriously doubt the ability of the newsletter to run a garden fete.

    Whatever the journalistic standards of the Tele it still makes the NL look like a school newssheet.