After hearing more than 100 days of evidence, Lord Justice Leveson is now preparing his report on what has been an unprecedented inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press.
It was born out of a scandal that shocked the public and put the spotlight on journalistic practices and ethics as never before. It is the view of the NUJ that the outcomes and recommendations of this Inquiry provide a once-in-a generation opportunity for genuine reform and change that could do much to improve media standards and accountability, shore up the vital role of ethics in media workplaces and transform the culture of the press.
The NUJ's closing statement to the Inquiry can be read here
It started as a battle for the voice of "ordinary" journalists to be heard at the Inquiry. The NUJ had to fight its case to become a core participant, alongside the main newspaper groups, police and those who had cause to complain at their treatment by the press.The NUJ also had to fight to prevent an attempt by certain newspapers to block evidence from journalists being given anonymous and conveyed,by Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, in order to protect their careers.
The NUJ presented evidence in writing and at the witness stand. The union was also given the chance for its counsel John Hendy QC to question Rupert Murdoch. When Murdoch was asked about the testimony from journalists who had worked for his titles and had experienced bullying and unacceptable pressure, his responses was: "Why didn't she resign?" As Lord Justice Leveson had to point out, "I think the problem with that might be that she needs a job." See (186sec) here
In the closing submission, Michelle Stanistreet said: "It has been clearly demonstrated that a culture of bullying exists in some workplaces, resulting in unacceptable pressure on journalists to deliver the goods, even if that means producing misleading or inaccurate material. This makes the practicalities of defending the principles of ethical journalism in the workplace a difficult if not impossible task for many journalists."
Evidence included that of " Journalist Number 2" who said: "During my time at the News of the World, I experienced pretty much constant bullying. My section editor would find fault with everything I did, making my life absolute hell. She sent emails behind my back, made comments about my weight. Just nasty stuff, really. It was the culture throughout the place. A woman reporter working for the newsdesk was sent sexually explicit text messages by someone senior to her. When she complained, she was just told not to make a fuss. The behaviour was all quite open, everyone joins in."
Journalist 4, with over 32 years' experience in the industry, spoke of the routine nature of abuse and humiliation in the evidence given via the NUJ.
"Those who objected were routinely abused verbally publicly. Humiliation was the most minor punishment for failure. Dismissal or relegation to the least favourable shifts, was much more common. A deliberate climate of fear and tension was created by management to improve performance. The only unwritten rule for those subjected to it were never complain publicly and never refuse an order. This included when being ordered to do something illegal, such as steal documents from a car, which I witnessed on one occasion."
This is why the NUJ called for a Conscience Clause in contracts of employment. Journalists would be able to stand up for a principle of journalistic ethics if they have a contractual protection against being dismissed. And, crucially, they will have the confidence and the security to put their head above the parapet in the first place.
Richard Desmond, owner of Northern & Shell, the publishers of Express Newspapers, gave an insight into the ethical approach taken by his titles when he gave evidence to the Inquiry. "Ethical - I don't know what the word means, perhaps you would explain what the word means." He added: "We do not talk about ethics or morals because it's a very fine line and everybody is different."
Role of the union
The NUJ said that "a fundamental bulwark for accountability within newsrooms is the role of an independent trade union and, critically, its ability of its members to carry out collective bargaining. An NUJ workplace chapel is not simply the vehicle for putting together pay claims and campaigning for better terms and conditions, it is also the place where members can raise issues of concern on matters ethical, on staffing levels, and on bullying and editorial pressure within their workplace".
One of the most important outcomes of the Inquiry will be the body established to regulate the press.The NUJ has rejected the model put forward by Lords Black and Hunt as more of the same.
Michelle Stanistreet said: "We believe that if we are to achieve independent, accountable regulation it needs to be underpinned by statute enabling a framework for a new body to be established with clear terms of reference, and a structure that involves journalists and civil society as key stakeholders. This is absolutely not the same as state regulation, far from it.
"Our model is based on the system in Ireland, where a Press Council was established together with a Press Ombudsman. It is significant that in Ireland, employers work sensibly and positively with the NUJ as a key stakeholder in a structure that journalists are actively represented within."
The NUJ believes that the circumstances in which the Inquiry was set up was caused by certain media organisations having too much power: "Media ownership, market share and access to distribution all play a significant part in how the media conducts its business. The increasing consolidation of media ownership and the disproportionate power and influence this brings with it have distorted the culture within our industry. When newspaper titles are bought and sold, there should be a rigorous public interest test. The highest bidder should not be allowed to simply walk away with our national titles in their pocket and the accompanying power and influence that brings, without adequate scrutiny to a process that invariably involves a secretive sealed bid."
Journalism: a force for good
Michelle Stanistreet, said: "Journalism is a force for good, a vital part of any democratic society. People choosing to enter the industry don't - believe me - do it for the money or the career prospects. They become journalists because they want to make a difference; they want to play their part in holding power to account, to shine a light in those dark recesses of society. They want to do their job well, professionally, and they want to keep their communities informed and expose wrongdoing.
"Journalists do not, however, operate in a vacuum. That is why the NUJ has made great efforts in the course of this Inquiry to put the examination of the industry's culture and practices in the broader context of the current state of the industry."