NBC News has sparked charges of age discrimination by announcing it is transferring 25 producers, directors and news writers, nearly all of them over 40, into a “pool” created to serve all its news broadcasts.
Of the 21 union employees placed in the pool--nicknamed “the drowning pool” by insiders--more than half are over 50, according to the National Assn. of Broadcast Engineers and Technicians.
Salaries of those being transferred will be cut by as much as 10%, the union said.
NBC officials strongly deny the discrimination charge, which the union formally raised this week with the National Labor Relations Board in a grievance proceeding.
“It looks like a concerted effort to move out senior people,” said John Clark, president of NABET’s Local 11 in New York. “The company hopes they’ll be frustrated . . . and that they’ll leave.”
But Executive News Director Don Browne said NBC is looking for “a more efficient way to do business” in an era of industry cutbacks.
“This isn’t an age issue. . . . It’s not based on anything but performance,” Browne said. He notes that 18 other employees have been laid off and that most were younger people.
Pool members will be on call for assignments from any NBC broadcast instead of working for a particular program.
NBC spokeswoman Peg Hubble said that while their base pay will be cut, it will be increased temporarily while they are on assignment for certain shows.
Those being reassigned from “NBC Nightly News” include investigative producer Pat Lynch, 52, who was sued unsuccessfully by Lyndon LaRouche after her reports on the now-imprisoned political extremist, and Sy Pearlman, 59, a former executive producer and Tel Aviv bureau chief who has won a Peabody and other awards.
“I am surprised to read that this decision was strictly based on ability,” Lynch said, “particularly in light of my having received the most distinguished awards in journalism, including two Emmys, a DuPont-Columbia award and a 1990 Ohio State award.”
Lynch said Steve Friedman, executive producer of “NBC Nightly News,” told her that her work was “an indulgence that ‘Nightly News’ can no longer afford” and that he wanted people who could “churn them out.”
Lynch said Friedman did not respond directly when asked if he felt she could not churn them out at her age.
Although Friedman denies making the comments, he said that “I did not believe this was a vehicle for her kind of work. I can’t live with someone who does eight or nine pieces a year.”