When there weren’t enough employees to hit those BBC quotas, That’s TV even looked outside the company for help. It’s understood at the end of last year That’s Hampshire recruited media students from the University of Winchester in a desperate bid to churn out the “stories”. It’s unclear if they were being paid.
When BuzzFeed News made inquiries to the university, one senior media lecturer said he was not aware of students working for That’s TV. Two other university employees did not return requests for comment.
To staff the stations, Cass sought out recent journalism graduates – often those who’d earned expensive master’s degrees – looking to get a foothold in the industry.
“Daniel would hire you with the promise that he’d get you a job at ITV or BBC after six months,” said a former That’s TV station chief. “There was an acknowledgment, he’d pay you minimum wage, but you’d do anything to get a foot in the door.”
Former That’s TV staffers who spoke to BuzzFeed News all confirmed employees at the company were being paid minimum wage of £7.80 an hour.
But the low pay was not where it ended for the young reporters. Each person was on a freelance contract, meaning no sick pay or holiday pay. They’d be paid only for the hours they worked. It meant that That’s TV was effectively staffed by recent graduates on minimum-wage, zero-hours contracts.
BuzzFeed News also obtained a copy of the That’s TV contract signed by the workers, which calls them “contractors” who were performing what the company referred to as a “consultancy service” for the station.
“Cass was very straightforward,” said a former That’s TV reporter, who left after six months in the job. “He looked into your eyes during your interview and said, ‘You’d make more working at Costa.’”
As if all this wasn’t bad enough, there was a two-week trial period for new starters. The trial was, unsurprisingly, unpaid. One reporter called it Cass’s “churn and burn” process for new recruits.
“We were being exploited – there’s no other word for it,” he said. “We all did our fair bit of internships in the industry; we all know how it works.
“But I think our bosses found it quite funny that we were being paid minimum wage and still running around like headless chickens all the time, waiting for us to burn out.”
For many the pay and conditions meant they were living off loans from parents or taking second – and even in some cases third – jobs at the weekend just to get by. One senior reporter worked nights as a delivery driver. A producer worked part-time in a local cafe.
Others said it was the travel expenses that left them fed up with the company. Cass set out in the contractual agreement for That’s TV reporters that they’d need to provide their own transport to work at the station – meaning a car.
That’s TV wasn’t liable for any costs for the employee’s vehicles – meaning legally, the reporters had to pay for fuel as well. If reporters didn’t have their own car, they’d be encouraged to ride a bike or catch taxis to and from stories, with the company washing its hands of the liability of picking up the bill.
“You would need to drive around in your own car, no expenses paid, no petrol paid, no parking paid,” said one former reporter from That’s Lancashire. “A lot of the stuff you did was off your own back.
“When you drove to a story, or two in a day, half your wage could be gone. You want to be proud of your work but towards the end, you were just churning out any old thing.”
Despite these issues, That’s TV’s relentless expansion appears to be continuing unchecked. It has reportedly picked up five new local licences in Scotland following the closure of the commercial STV2 channel.
Presented with BuzzFeed News’ findings, the SNP’s digital, culture, media, and sport spokesperson, Hannah Bardell, said the company’s moves into Scotland should be met with “serious questions and scrutiny”.
“At a time when leading broadcasters like STV are announcing closures it is concerning that this questionable and substandard scheme is being propped up in this way,” Bardell said. “Any expansion into Scottish broadcasting should be met with serious questions and scrutiny before any operations begin.
“The Tory government’s local TV initiative has been an expensive flop.”
Written by : Mark Di Stefano