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DM 2012: Why an ethical press needs trade unions

6 October 2012

Delegate Meeting 2012

Illegal and exploitative practices in the press have flourished because of union derecognition in the 1980s.

Delegates at NUJ DM in Newcastle voted to support a motion that congratulated the general secretary's work and performance at the Leveson Inquiry and highlighted the NUJ's submission to Lord Justice Leveson, which calls for robust regulation of the press by an independent body with trade union representation. The motion also called for limits on media ownership.

John Hendy QC, the NUJ's counsel at the inquiry, addressed DM. He said he had wanted to be able to ask Rupert Murdoch about his deal with Tony Blair in 1997. This was the so-called Wapping clause under union recognition legislation, which enabled Murdoch to block the NUJ from his papers in favour of the News International staff organisation.

Since then landmark court judgments have enshrined the right of being a member of a trade union and the right to strike. And one consequence of the hacking scandal has been the setting up of NUJ chapel in Wapping.

Eamonn McCann, NEC member, said that, during the move to Wapping, Thatcher's police were handed over to the Murdoch empire to attack trade unionists. This unholy relationship between Murdoch and the police flourised ever since.

John Hendy said that when Thatcher came to power 82 per cent of workers had collective bargaining, now the figure is 30 per cent, with seven out of ten people having their pay and conditions determined by management diktat.

He said collective bargaining was vital because it led to an increase in wages, the reduction of inequality, it gave workers a voice and it was a matter of justice.

The opportunity for John Hendy to quiz Rupert Murdoch during the inquiry was described as a red letter day for the NUJ by Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary. DM was shown a clip of the event. When Murdoch was asked about allegations of bullying within News International he said: "They always strike me as a very happy crowd."

The Leveson Inquiry was the subject of a fringe meeting which included speakers from the English Gypsy and Irish Traveller Movement, Helen Goodman, the Labour Party's media spokesperson, and Adrian Thomas of the British Red Cross.

Mike Doherty said that travellers had been the "last socially acceptable subject of racism", but now the Advertising Standards Association has ruled that Channel 4's 'Bigger, Fatter, Gypsier' adverts are offensive.

The ASA, which took advice from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, found that the ads featuring teenager girls wearing low-cut tops could enforce prejudicial views against the gypsy and traveller community and were likely to cause serious offence.

Sophie Vale, the development officer for the English Gypsy and Irish Traveller Movement, said most of the press coverage of the traveller community was negative and that it was often due to the ignorance of journalists.  The media's role is important because it can shape public perception, she said.

Adrian Thomas said that refugees suffered a similar negative treatment to travellers in the press. He said: "They are routinely described as scroungers, bogus and illegal."

Helen Goodman said failure of the Press Complaints Commission to take on third party complaints from organisations representing disadvantaged communities was another example of why it has to go and be replaced by a new body that is citizen centric and takes complaints seriously. But it is the reform of media ownership – unlikely to be covered in Lord Leveson's report – which is most crucial to having a free and diverse press. 

Tags: , Leveson, DM2012, ethics, collective bargaining, rupert murdoch