Journalists are being bullied by newspaper managements and put under huge pressure to deliver the story at all costs, the Leveson Inquiry heard.
Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ General Secretary, gave evidence from testimony compiled from personal interviews with journalists that reveals a shocking catalogue of bullying and abuse in the newspaper industry.
Those who came forward were guaranteed anonymity, after Associated Newspapers, publishers of the Daily Mail, failed in a court bid to prevent the evidence being brought to the Inquiry.
Michelle Stanistreet said: “The range of issues the journalists have raised with me include, but are not restricted to – endemic bullying, huge pressure to deliver stories, overwhelming commercial pressures which are allowed to dictate what is published and the overweening power and control of editors over their journalists and of employers over their editors.”
She explained why the journalists had needed to give their evidence anonymously: “They feel too scared and frightened to give evidence in a way which would allow them to be identified by their current or prospective media employers. Those who have experienced or witnessed bullying of a vicious and engrained nature have largely been too fearful to speak out in case they lost their job or were forced out. Those who have witnessed first-hand unethical behaviour or been pressured into working in a way that is unethical are frankly terrified about being identified.
The union is calling for a conscience clause for journalists, enabling them to cite the NUJ Code of Conduct
as a safeguard against being forced to use unethical methods.
Members of Parliament echoed the call for a conscience clause for journalists. A conscience clause in journalists’ contracts would enable to stand up for principled journalism and protect them against unscrupulous editors and newspaper proprietors. The NUJ Parliamentary Group has consistently supported the call for a conscience clause for journalists to protect journalists and journalistic standards.
John McDonnell MP, Secretary of the NUJ Parliamentary Group said: “The NUJ’s evidence just shows how bad the atmosphere of bullying and intimidation has been in newsrooms. The reign of terror by certain editors left journalists vulnerable to being forced to survive by employing dubious and, at times, illegal practices. This is why journalists need the protection of a conscience clause in their contract.”
Austin Mitchell MP, Chair of the NUJ Parliamentary Group said: “The bullying of journalists at some newspapers shows the need for them to be protected at work. The NUJ has been campaigning for a conscience clause for journalists for a number of years. A conscience clause and recognition for the NUJ are two ways to help tackle the dodgy practices that some in the media have engaged in.”
The NUJ Parliamentary Group consists of around 30 MPs and peers on a cross-party basis.