Leveson’s legacy must be genuine change that puts the interests of the public and quality journalism ahead of the commercial interests of media owners, Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, told a fringe meeting at the LibDem conference.
The meeting in Brighton, held with Hacked Off and the Coordinating Committee for Media Reform (CCMR), included contributions from actor Steve Coogan, who gave evidence at the Leveson Inquiry, and Joan Smith, the Times journalist who had her phone hacked by the News of the World after the death of the daughter of her then partner, a former Labour minister.
Steve Coogan on the platform with NUJ, Hacked Off and CCMR
at the LibDem conference Photo Dulcie Lee
Evan Harris, the former LibDem MP and associate member of Hacked Off who chaired the conference, said all of those on the platform were campaigners for press freedom who wanted effective and independent regulation of the press. He said that Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, had told him that he would fully support Lord Leveson's recommendations provided they were proportionate and workable.
Michelle Stanistreet said: “There’s a broad coalition of interests, including all of us here today, certain that we need substantive change. Others are desperate to retain the status quo – and it’s clear that the knives are already out for Leveson and no doubt his findings.”
She told the meeting about the evidence the NUJ had provided to the inquiry about the culture in some newsrooms: “The stories of the bullying were eye-watering. Seasoned hacks reduced to tears by the stress heaped on them by their editor. A young female reporter – already picked on by her boss over her weight, forced to dress in meat to look like Lady Gaga and parade around town getting reactions from the public. A journalist who spoke out over the anti-Muslim stories she was being forced to write, punished by being made to write more and more of these articles until resigning was the only option.
"If we want a press where journalists feel able to stick their head above the parapet and defend their journalistic ethics, they need to know they cannot be sacked for speaking out. That’s why we’re demanding a conscience clause to be inserted into journalists’ contracts, which will allow them to refuse unethical assignments.”
Steve Coogan said: “There is a lie being pedalled by some sections of the press that any kind of independent regulation underpinned by statute is an attack on press freedom. We are all in favour of press freedoms. Journalists who pursue stories that are genuinely in the public interest should be protected and enabled. We want a healthier press. We don't want to curb their freedoms – we just want to them to behave in a more responsible and accountable way."
NUJ/Hacked Off/CCMR fringe Photo Dulcie Lee
Angela Phillips of CCMR said new rules on media ownership should be brought in to curb the power of the media barons: “We believe that news media should hold prime ministers to account, rather than bringing them to heal. No one should own so much of the news media that they have more power than the elected representatives of the people,” she said.
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