By Peter Stevenson
CYBC JOURNALISTS were left stunned and infuriated this week following a decision by the board of directors to blanket-block access to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
In a circular sent out on Monday all CyBC employees were informed that following a board meeting on July 30 it was agreed that the corporation needed to change its policies regarding the use of the internet at work.
“Bearing in mind the benefits provided by the internet but also the dangers that come with its misuse, the CyBC is implementing this specific policy for all staff,” the announcement said.
While the ban meant that a CyBC secretary could no longer chat to friends on Facebook during working hours, it also left journalists unable to work in a world where social networking sites are now vital sources of information and contact.
The corporation was quickly forced to backtrack on its ban for journalists, but in the meantime they were unable to access crucial sites for two days.
“You often wonder what goes through their heads sometimes and if they know how the media even works nowadays when they make decisions like that. I understand cutting it off for just normal employees like secretaries or office staff but for journalists it’s our way of obtaining news locally and abroad a lot of the time,” said one outraged journalist who did not wish to be named.
He said the ban was a part of a changing culture at the state broadcaster which is being forced to slash its budget by €6 million next year.
“They will be looking at plenty of ways of cutting costs and trying to improve productivity but I feel that limiting the staff’s internet access is a desperate move,” he said.
It is common practice for businesses to limit access to social networking sites and other non-work related websites, even though research carried out by Microsoft earlier this year indicated that the premise that social media usage inhibits productivity is a myth.
For journalists however, internet access is all about increasing productivity.
When told about the temporary ban at CyBC, a British-based BBC journalist said she was shocked.
“It’s the fastest way of getting all the news I want, not just from news organisations, but from key players in business and politics. When the prime minister, chancellor and most of the cabinet are on Twitter you’d be silly not to check what they’re saying,” the BBC business journalist said.
It’s the fastest way of getting news from war zones like Syria and the best way of finding contacts and communicating with them, she said.
“Obviously all the appropriate BBC checks and balances are used before we put someone on air, but we can find out who’s saying what and ask them if they’d be willing to talk,” the journalist said.
She said that just last week she found six of the interviewees the BBC had on their programmes from Twitter.
“Not allowing journalists to use twitter is like telling them they can no longer use their contacts book,” she added.
CyBC director Themis Themistocleous told the Sunday Mail that the decision had not been based on attempts to increase productivity.
“The board approved the policy in July but it is not productivity based because we believe our employees are very conscientious and would never abuse their rights,” he said.
Themistocleous confirmed that IT services had disabled social networking sites for everyone, but those that required it had to go through the process of applying through their superior to have them reconnected.
“Journalists were without social network sites for one or two days maximum, and they have all been connected again but I feel some people are making mountains out of mole hills,” he said.
The director said that some form of order needed to be put in place but that the correct use of social networking sites helps journalists and producers to get in touch with their contacts and to upload stories on the corporation’s website.
The CyBC journalist said employees now need to hand in written letters asking for an exception to be taken in each of their cases.
“Even though the top brass have realised their mistake and have attempted to back track, being without access to social networking sites even for one or two days made my job extremely difficult,” he said.
By Peter Stevenson