Motions calling for a conscience clause for journalists, changes to press regulation and a plea to the BBC’s new director general to establish a new plan for the future of the corporation were passed unanimously by Congress.
Delegates in Brighton were told how the Leveson Inquiry heard witness after witness tell of “practices perpetrated by a powerful media that had come to think of itself as above the law”.
Chris Frost, chair of the NUJ’s ethics council, proposed the motion. He said: “We have already heard today about bullying in the workplace. Well I’m here to tell you that bullying in newsrooms, especially the national press, is rife and totally unacceptable. The NUJ gave evidence to Leveson on behalf of a number of journalists too scared for their jobs to appear in person. The Daily Mail tried to obtain a High Court order to prevent these journalists being able to give anonymous evidence. Fortunately even the courts realised the importance of hearing from those too scared or embarrassed to tell their story in person.
Chris Frost Photo: Mark Thomas
“The NUJ is seeking a conscience clause so that journalists can refuse assignments that would require them to act unethically without risk to their jobs. Rupert Murdoch, when questioned about a journalist at one of his papers being bullied replied that she could have quit. It was left to Lord Justice Leveson to remind him that maybe the journalist needed the job.”
Professor Frost called for a change to the system of press regulation so that all stakeholders, proprietors and editors and also the public and journalists have a role. He said we need to campaign for “a fair regulatory system that puts press freedom as its number one priority but with fair and accurate coverage of British and international affairs a close second”.
The motion was seconded by John McDonnell from the GMB’s NW & Irish Region. He said: “We watched the inquiry unfolding day by day, opening up to the public the disgusting practices of the Murdoch empire: the phone hacking; the cosy relationship between the press and the police; the even cosier relationship between the Murdoch press and the politicians at their beck and call; and them destroying the lives and reputations of anyone who challenged them.
“A free press is one of the defining characteristics of a free society. But the press isn’t free. It’s under the influence of a media mogul with a political agenda.”
Donnacha DeLong, NUJ president, told Congress that the BBC is under attack. He said that Rupert Murdoch and the Murdoch family were behind the deal which has led to the BBC’s licence fee being frozen and the 20 per cuts under Delivering Quality First. He quoted from James Murdoch’s 2009 MacTaggart speech which ended with the chilling words: “The only reliable, durable, and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit.”
Donnacha DeLong Photo: Mark Thomas
He said it was the influence of the Murdochs on the government which led to the deal behind closed doors between Mark Thompson, the then director general, and the Secretary of State which sealed the fate of the BBC.
He said: “I was on a picket line at the BBC. The journalists with me were there to save the BBC. But the management was on the other side, lining up with the Tories to attack the corporation.”
Christine Payne, general secretary of Equity, seconded the motion. She said: “For my members, the BBC is instrumental in nurturing and developing their talents – it gives them the opportunity to work with great material from new and established writers and to appear in high quality programmes that are only possible with the involvement of the best production and creative workforce in the world.
“In the Midlands, my members are fighting hard to hang on to what is left of BBC Birmingham – they fear it will only be a matter of time before The Archers and the daytime drama “Doctors” are moved away from the region;19 per cent of the licence fee comes from the Midlands but by the end of 2012 less than 3 per cent will be spent there.
There is no doubt that these cuts will weaken the BBC and a BBC weakened by these cuts will be much more vulnerable to its enemies - enemies who have consistently argued for it to be privatised.”
Cuts to the BBC
Congress notes the appointment of George Entwistle as the new director general of the BBC, at a time when the cuts programme, the so-called Delivering Quality First initiative is being felt by journalists and programme makers across the corporation.
Congress believes that the deal, leading to 20 per cent cuts and 2,000 job losses, compromises quality, following the loss of more than 7,000 job since 2004.
Congress condemns this assault on front-line journalism and programming and the assault on pay, terms and conditions and pension provision for its employees.
Congress notes that Thompson’s deal struck in October 2010 has led to the BBC taking on an extra £340million in spending commitments, including the funding of the World Service, local TV and the rollout of fast broadband, opening up the once-ringfenced income of our public service broadcaster for future governments to plunder.
Congress notes that the deal was struck in the political context of significant pressure from News Corporation and therefore the licence fee deal should be reopened and conducted with genuine transparency and consultation.
Congress notes the research commissioned by Federation of Entertainment Unions shows the impact cuts will have on the whole of the creative sector and will undermine the delivery of the BBC’s wider social objectives.
Congress calls on the BBC and its new director general to establish a new plan for the future of the BBC , calls on government to stop using the BBC as a cash cow and ensure that the future of quality public service broadcasting is protected.
This Congress welcomes the Leveson inquiry into the culture and ethics of the press and its intended aim of raising the standards of press journalism in the UK.
Congress believes that an investigation into a press culture that invades privacy and presents a distorted view of working life in the UK is long overdue and expresses its shock at some of the outrageous behaviour revealed at the inquiry.
Leveson has heard much evidence of bullying and intimidation pressing journalists to behave unethically in order to pursue stories that are designed to raise circulation and thus profits rather than inform, educate and entertain readers and congress condemns these newsroom employment practices.
Congress calls for the introduction of a conscience clause into journalists’ contracts of employment, that will allow journalists to refuse unethical assignments. Congress further demands that the right for workers to be represented in their workplaces is vital, as this is the only way to ensure that bullying and threats do not lead to unethical behaviour whether in the press or elsewhere.
Congress further calls on the government to change the system of regulation of the press to ensure that it ceases to be the plaything of media barons and that all stakeholders, including the public and journalists, are able to play a full part in ensuring higher standards of the press by holding newspapers that behave badly to account.