How the other half live

Fiction’s flexible friends

A MEETING between Society of Authors members and Neil Hunt and Sue Dickson from the BBC's Talent Rights department threw some interesting light on how journalists fare compared to more "creative" creators. Jenny Vaughan reports.

The Society of Authors is a classy place (oil paintings on the walls, wine and nibbles before the meeting). Despite their polite surroundings, the writers - mostly dramatists and so on - were distinctly stroppy on 5 February. They were not paid enough - not nearly enough. A story lasting 15 minutes on the radio may command less than £150 - and 15 minutes is a lot of words. We discovered that it's BBC policy to pay "established" writers more than "new" ones.

"New" means never having written for the BBC before, even if you are a latter-day Charles Dickens. (You don't really exist unless you're working for the BBC.) Work for television counts towards becoming "established" for radio, but not vice versa.

Then there were "moral rights": the right to be acknowledged as a work's author, and the right not to have it treated in a "derogatory" fashion (messed about with to its detriment).

Like many media companies, the BBC likes you to waive these rights - apparently lest some major news story breaks just before the end of your broadcast, and there's no time for credits. When asked why provision for this unlikely event couldn't be written into a contract, they said it could. Indeed, everything, including money was negotiable - which didn't seem to be the experience of most of those present.

Then came talk of a new contract, to allow the BBC to re-use material more often without having to renegotiate. It sounded fishy.

But no. It was just to ease administration. Rest assured, our repeat fees were safe.

Repeat fees? The BBC stopped paying repeat fees to journalists years ago - but it appears that everyone else still gets them.

Question for Our Leaders: how come journalists lost this valuable source of income - and how can we get it back?

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