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#DM16: Whittingdale must resign

© paul herrmann

15 April 2016

Michelle Stanistreet, has been re-elected, unopposed, as general secretary of the National Union of Journalists.

In her speech to members at the union’s Delegate Meeting, in Southport, she thanked everyone who supported her and said she looked forward with optimism to her next five-year term, especially following two strong years for the union since the last DM.

She started her new term by calling for John Whittingdale, Culture Secretary, to resign. She said:

“It’s not his sex life, but that he has compromised his position and integrity by allowing his privacy to be shielded by the newspaper owners who have been leaning on him throughout this time, in order that he deliver on press regulation and on the emasculation of the BBC.
 “The reality is that in not coming clean to parliament about a clear conflict of interest, Whittingdale compromised his own position. He’s taken decisions of vital interest where his knowledge of the dirt that Paul Dacre has had on him cannot but have had an impact. We cannot be expected to believe that the sweets he’s served up to the industry on press regulation and the BBC are but a coincidental meeting of minds. He should resign and he should resign right now.”

She said the importance of a free, independent press had been shown by the unfolding impact of the Panama Papers data leak. The investigation involved 109 news organisations around the world, including the BBC and Guardian, with more than 400 journalists having access to more than 11m documents dating back 40 years. She said: “I think it has been a shot in the arm for investigative journalism and shows the impact and influence dogged reporting can have.”

That is why she was pleased to say the union held a successful event in parliament earlier that week, as part of the union’s campaign to do as much damage to the Investigatory Powers Bill. 

“The freewheeling access this will give the state to journalistic information and data and the consequential damage to our sources should anger us all and we’re working with media organisations, and the Law Society and Bar Council to lobby for amendments to this dangerous bill.”

She started her speech by praising members who had taken collective action to challenge poor pay and conditions in the industry:

  • The members in Alpha Newspapers in Ireland, who are gearing up for strike action over poverty pay.
  •  ITV members who achieved a better pay settlement and galvanised recruitment during the campaign.
  • The 10-day industrial action taken by members on Newsquest titles in south London which secured the London Living Wage for trainees and other concessions.
  • Trinity Mirror members who after balloting for strike action and national talks with the company reversed plans to impose individual click targets and audience goals.
  • The successful battle at the Rotherham Advertiser to reverse the company’s decision to make our long-standing FoC Phil Turner redundant, with huge support from across the NUJ and the broader trade union movement.
  • The moratorium on compulsory redundancies at the BBC.

Michelle said that surveys of members in the UK and Ireland last year showed that pay is one of the greatest issues facing our members; with one in five journalists in the UK having earned less than £20,000 in the past financial year.

A quarter of staff and 60 per cent of freelances said they had suffered financial hardship, with many admitting it was a struggle to pay their rent and stretch pay packets from one month to the next. She said: “That pay iniquity isn’t consigned to the history books but remains with us today shows there’s a lot more fighting left for the trade union movement against companies that still try to get away with low wages and paying women workers less than their male counterparts.” 

The fight against the scourge of sexism is just one of the many campaigns the union is fighting, she said. The union had held an event in Parliament to support public service broadcasting. The union’s Love or Lose it campaign has championed  a well-funded, independent BBC and is fighting the possible privatisation of Channel 4.She said:

“The BBC is a public service broadcaster prized the world over. It is our BBC – not the preserve of the few that happen to inhabit senior management positions or the government of the day. Its future is worth fighting for. As is the future of public service broadcasting more broadly which is under growing threat – S4C has had its funding cut by over £18million since 2009, and the future of Channel 4 is in jeopardy with the government considering flogging it off to raise Treasury coffers which is why we held a recent rally in parliament in defence of public service broadcasting.”

Michelle said delegates would be hearing good news from the union’s treasurer at conference. She said:

“He will be reporting on a financial picture that shows the impact of the work we’ve collectively put in to secure our survival as an independent trade union. We had committed to rebuilding reserves – with the goal of £2million by 2020. We have surpassed that goal already and are in the position of being able to self-finance a renovation of Headland House, the union’s sole asset, that will not only significantly increase the value of our headquarters, but will provide a vital source of enhanced income.”

Tags: , DM16, general secretary, john whittingdale, speech