Fifty-five network news reporters, including anchormen Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings, and all five correspondents on CBS "60 Minutes," protested Monday what they said are network proposals to make them "technicians" as well as reporters.
To give the three major networks the right to assign them such additional roles as cameramen, editors and satellite-transmission operators would seriously detract them from their work as reporters and put "the integrity of television news broadcasts" in jeopardy, they said in a signed statement.
Their statement was released by their union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, as it resumed new contract talks Monday in New York with network representatives. The talks, which began late last year, broke off July 21 after a failure to resolve the issues cited by the correspondents.
At press time, there was no immediate comment from the networks on the two-page protest signed by ABC's Jennings, NBC's Brokaw, and "60 Minutes" correspondents Mike Wallace, Harry Reasoner, Diane Sawyer, Morley Safer and Ed Bradley, and other on-air reporters.
Robert Shakne, a veteran CBS correspondent serving on the union's negotiating team, said the part of the proposed contract that sparked the protest also would apply in a separate new contract for the networks' owned and operated television stations.
The disputed portion, he said, says that "nothing in this agreement shall be construed to prevent the assignment of news personnel on a non-exclusive basis to any technical duties in television . . . not heretofore performed by newspersons," provided that such duties are involved in news gathering.
"In short," Shakne said, "the concern we have is if that is simply put forward without further definition or restriction, it opens the reporters to be one-man bands, responsible for their own photographs, satellite transmissions and tape and film editing."
The key issue, he added, is not jobs. "The issue is: Can we be given the time to be reporters?"
The other protesters included ABC White House correspondent Sam Donaldson, NBC commentator John Chancellor, veteran CBS anchor Douglas Edwards and news series anchors Leslie Stahl of CBS "Face the Nation" and Roger Mudd of NBC's "1986."
A union spokesman said such other news stars as CBS anchorman Dan Rather and Ted Koppel of ABC's "Nightline" were out of town and couldn't be contacted last week when the protest was being drawn up and circulated.
Those who signed the statement said they "believe the (networks') proposal to merge technical and editorial duties in television has the potential of diminishing the role of the reporter in the preparation and presentation of television news."
They argued that gathering facts and reporting them "is a full-time job."
However, they added, "they who control the finances and technology of broadcasting, but who are not journalists, now propose to turn reporters into technicians responsible for operating cameras and recorders, editing tapes and transmitting by satellite while still trying to fulfill responsibilities" as reporters and commentators.
They said they weren't opposed to new technology, such as the videotape and satellite technology that now is in wide use in television news and has greatly accelerated the ability to air breaking news locally, nationally and from overseas.
But they are opposed, they said, "to the assumption of duties which stand in the way of reporters seeing, thinking, writing and telling their stories."
They called for "careful negotiations" to insure that "technological change enhances rather than diminishes the quality of broadcast journalism."
CBS' Reasoner, in a separate statement in which he supported his colleagues' statement, puckishly added that there is "another danger . . . which is that the very important technical work might suffer at the hands of certain correspondents, including me."
About 500 on-air reporters, correspondents and anchors are being represented by AFTRA in the contract talks, 300 of whom work for the networks and the balance for the networks' owned-and-operated television stations, a union spokesman said.
All have been working under an extension of a three-year contract that expired Nov. 15. The union hasn't struck the networks since 1967. That walkout lasted 13 days.