Two of the BBC’s most high-profile presenters, Evan Davis and Sarah Montague, enraged colleagues yesterday by defying the strike that has brought chaos to its news schedules.
They ignored a 48-hour journalists’ walkout to present Radio 4’s flagship Today programme.
It is understood that they managed to avoid crossing a picket line by arriving at 3.30am – before striking colleagues had arrived.
Their decision was a boon to BBC management trying to ensure major news programmes remained on air, but has been described as a kick in the teeth to colleagues striking over changes to their pension scheme.
‘Kick in the teeth': Evan Davis and Sarah Montague’s decision to break the picket line has ‘mortified’ striking BBC journalists
Davis, who also presents Dragons’ Den on BBC2, and Montague, a former stockbroker, even referred to the impact of the National Union of Journalists’ strike while they were on air.
The BBC was severely embarrassed on Friday when it had to pull the show and replace it with repeated programmes. According to the Radio Times, Montague had been scheduled to present that edition with John Humphrys.
Senior broadcast sources have told The Mail on Sunday that Montague told bosses on Friday that she would turn up for work on Saturday on condition that she did not have to present the programme on her own.
Davis subsequently agreed to join her in the studio at Television Centre in West London, where the programme is normally made.
It is not known if either of the presenters is a member of the NUJ or whether other newsroom staff agreed to join them.
Davis last night refused to talk to The Mail on Sunday about his decision to defy the strike. The presenter – who also turned up for work during a strike at the BBC in 2005 –said it was ‘above his pay grade’ to talk about such things.
By the time the presenters left the studio shortly after 9am a full picket line had been assembled.
Striking journalists are mortified by the duo’s decision to go ahead, fearing their actions will undermine support for further stoppages planned for later this month.
One journalist, who asked not to be named said they were shocked and saddened by the decision to go ahead with the programme.
‘I think most people had assumed that the programme would not go ahead. People are absolutely gutted and very disappointed. The success of the Today programme rests on its presenters and the fact that the BBC was able to get such big names in today is bad news for the strike.
‘If the BBC can get a perfectly acceptable edition of Today on air, then it’s not a high-profile strike.
‘People will be wondering whether they should take part in further strikes and lose out on pay in the run-up to Christmas.’
Ian Pollock, the chairman of the London branch of the NUJ, said: ‘I think them turning up like this is a very poor show. What did they think they were doing?
‘When their colleagues are out here in the cold and are going to have a huge cut in their pensions, there they are laughing and joking away on the radio this morning.
‘We face huge cuts of millions of pounds and they seem to be carrying on as if nothing is happening.’
The show got off to a shaky start when Montague told listeners it was 6am – when in fact it was 7am. Davis had to correct her.
The programme also featured contributions from John Humphrys who has spent the last two weeks reporting from China. However, he did not have to defy the strike as the segment broadcast yesterday was a pre-recorded item.
He declined to comment last night. ‘I only got back from China last night and I haven’t even heard the item,’ he told The Mail on Sunday.
One member of the BBC newsroom, who asked not to be named, wondered if Davis, 48, and Montague, 44, would be able to look fellow journalists in the eye once the strike was over. ‘It’s very disappointing that people who are colleagues are refusing to show solidarity. This will have a real impact for all those involved.
‘While both Evan and Sarah are probably on freelance contracts and much better paid than most union members, they still have to work with union members. It is all about the team and they are certainly not acting as one.’
Justin Webb, another of the presenters on the Today programme, said he was not a member of the union and would turn up for work if he was scheduled to appear.
He confirmed, however, that he would not agree to replace colleagues who were on strike.
He said: ‘I am not in the union. I am not on strike. I have enormous sympathy for my colleagues who feel upset about the pension issue. I am a member of the pension scheme myself so I will take a hit along with everyone else. But if I am on the rota, I will work.’ Fellow presenter James Naughtie is believed to be more sympathetic to the strikers.
He has spent the last few days reporting for the programme in the United States and was unavailable for comment yesterday.
The 48-hour strike caused widespread disruptions to programmes on Friday, but yesterday it was a more mixed picture.
BBC1’s Breakfast programme was presented as planned by Charlie Stayt.
But co-host Louise Minchin failed to appear and was replaced by a stand in, Anne Davies from East Midlands Today.
Some Radio 5 Live programmes were cancelled and the ten-minute news bulletin on Radio 4 at 1pm was cut to just three minutes.
The popular From Our Own Correspondent, which has been running on Radio 4 for 55 years and is presented by veteran correspondent Kate Adie, was replaced by an edition of foreign affairs programme Crossing Continents.
The strike also forced the Corporation to drop its regional and local news bulletins on BBC1.
A BBC spokesman said yesterday: ‘We are doing everything we can to deliver programmes and services to our audiences.
‘However, we anticipate some disruption to the schedule and we apologise for this.’
Robert was released in 2001, but Herman and Albert remain in solitary, continuing to fight for their freedom.
Despite a number of reforms achieved in the mid-70s, many officials repeatedly ignore both evidence of misconduct, and of innocence.
The State’s case is riddled with inconsistencies, obfuscations, and missteps. A bloody print at the murder scene does not match Herman, Albert or anyone charged with the crime and was never compared with the limited number of other prisoners who had access to the dormitory on the day of the murder.
Potentially exculpatory DNA evidence has been “lost” by prison officials—including fingernail scrapings from the victim and barely visible “specks” of blood on clothing alleged to have been worn by Albert.
Both Herman and Albert had multiple alibi witnesses with nothing to gain who testified they were far away from the scene when the murder occurred.
In contrast, several State witnesses lied under oath about rewards for their testimony. The prosecution’s star witness Hezekiah Brown told the jury: “Nobody promised me nothing.” But new evidence shows Hezekiah, a convicted serial rapist serving life, agreed to testify only in exchange for a pardon, a weekly carton of cigarettes, TV, birthday cakes, and other luxuries.
“Hezekiah was one you could put words in his mouth,” the Warden reminisced chillingly in an interview about the case years later.
Even the widow of the victim after reviewing the evidence believes Herman and Albert’s trials were unfair, has grave doubts about their guilt, and is calling upon officials to find the real killer.
In fact, Albert’s conviction has now been overturned twice by judges citing racial discrimination, prosecutorial misconduct, inadequate defense, and suppression of exculpatory evidence.
Sadly however, AEDPA-gutted habeas protections that limit federal power recently allowed the U.S. Court of Appeals to defer judgment to Louisiana, where seemingly vengeful prosecutors insist Albert is “the most dangerous person on the planet.”
In spite of this setback, the validity of Albert’s conviction is again under review due to apparent discrimination in the selection of a grand jury foreperson, an injustice that may finally set Albert free.
Although a State Judicial Commissioner similarly recommended reversing Herman’s conviction based on new, compelling evidence exposing prosecutorial misconduct and constitutional violations, the Louisiana Supreme Court denied his appeal without comment.
Undeterred, Herman has now turned to the Federal Courts to prove his innocence and win his freedom.
Meanwhile, Louisiana prison officials stubbornly refuse to release them from solitary because “there’s been no rehabilitation” from “practicing Black Pantherism.”
Nearly a decade ago Herman, Albert and Robert filed a civil lawsuit challenging the inhumane and increasingly pervasive practice of long-term solitary confinement. Magistrate Judge Dalby describes their almost four decades of solitary as “durations so far beyond the pale” she could not find “anything even remotely comparable in the annals of American jurisprudence.” The case, expected to go to trial in 2011, will detail unconstitutionally cruel and unusual treatment and systematic due process violations at the hands of Louisiana officials.
We believe that only by openly examining the failures and inequities of the criminal justice system in America can we restore integrity to that system.
We must not wait.
We can make a difference.
As the A3 did years before, now is the time to challenge injustice and demand that the innocent and wrongfully incarcerated be freed.
- Laura and the Inmates – Angola, LA (travelpod.com)
- Corruption Common Among U.S. Attorneys [Dispatches from the Culture Wars] (scienceblogs.com)
- West Memphis Three Case: Court Orders New Evidentiary Hearings (politicsdaily.com)