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A conscience clause remains essential for journalists and should be added to royal charter, says NUJ

10 October 2013

The National Union of Journalists calls on the coalition government and industry figures to agree to include a conscience clause for journalists in the final version of the royal charter.

The executive summary of the Leveson report stated:

"…I was struck by the evidence of journalists who felt that they might be put under pressure to do things that were unethical or against the code. I therefore suggest that the new independent self-regulatory body should establish a whistle-blowing hotline and encourage its members to ensure that journalists’ contracts include a conscience clause protecting them if they refuse."

The NUJ believes it is essential to improve the ethics, culture and practices of the industry by including a conscience clause for journalists in the royal charter. By adding this provision it would give journalists the opportunity to refuse unethical assignments whilst having contractual protections against being dismissed for taking a stand for ethical journalism.

The recent intrusion into the private memorial service for a relative of Ed Miliband could have been avoided if journalists had a conscience clause to protect themselves.

The NUJ code of conduct states:

"A journalist: Does nothing to intrude into anybody’s private life, grief or distress unless justified by overriding consideration of the public interest."

Journalists should always have the right to refuse assignments that contravene their ethical code; no journalists should be disciplined or suffer detriment to their careers for asserting their right to act ethically.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:

"The industry's royal charter has not been adopted because it flies in the face of the spirit of Lord Leveson's recommendation for an organisation independent of the industry. The NUJ does not believe a royal charter is the best way to set up authority for a press regulator, but we gave the original charter guarded support after cross-party agreement was reached.

"It is essential to improve the ethics, culture and practices of the industry by including a conscience clause for journalists in the royal charter. By adding this provision it would give journalists the opportunity to refuse unethical assignments whilst having contractual protections against being dismissed for taking a stand for ethical journalism."

Tags: , leveson, conscience clause, ethics, royal charter