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Ethical journalism championed at TUC disabled workers conference

31 May 2012

Delegates at the TUC's 2012 disabled workers conference warmly supported the NUJ's motion on media ethics.

Mike Smith, the NUJ's National Executive Member for disabled members, moved the motion and thanked delegates for recognising that not all journalists are members of the NUJ and therefore not bound by the union's Code of Conduct.

Mike Smith said that, as trade unionists, NUJ members were disgusted by tabloid attacks on disabled people and sensational headlines. He said members therefore welcomed fair, ethical reporting that highlighted the effect benefit cuts were having on disabled people throughout Britain and revealing the true cost of ATOS decisions.

The key message contained in the union's motion was that a strong trade union presence in media organisations created a healthier ethical culture, giving journalists support so they felt they could stand up to editorial excesses. This was all part of the union's approach to the Leveson enquiry, which the union had urged to support a journalists' conscience clause, backed by statute, protecting journalists who refused to write unethical copy or obtain information by illegal means.

Added to this, the NUJ was calling for Leveson to support the need for all journalists to have a code of ethical conduct, based on the union's own code, contained in journalists' employment contracts.

Mike Smith explained that the NUJ was also campaigning for a regulatory body that would uphold ethical standards and have the power to issue serious penalties to media organisations that failed to maintain decent ethical standards. Such a body must be open to complaints from the public and organisations such as the NUJ and have a transparent mechanism to deal with such complaints, he said.

Commending the motion to delegates, Mike Smith finished by saying:

"Our industry is undergoing unprecedented change – the NUJ will be at its heart, as the voice of journalists and the champion of quality, ethical journalism."

Read the NUJ Code of Conduct.

The full text of the motion:

Ethical reporting and unionised workplaces

Conference commends the NUJ and its members for continued efforts to promote good practice
when covering disability and equality issues.

NUJ members’ experience in unionised workplaces demonstrates that trade unions provide security for members and workers to raise concerns and challenge poor practice and poor management. Evidence presented to the Leveson Inquiry substantiates the NUJ’s position that journalism and journalistic practice are significantly more sensitive and responsible in unionised workplaces, particularly in relation to disability reporting and issues such as benefits and disabled people’s rights.

Conference calls on the TUC, together with the Federation of Entertainment Unions (FEU) to
campaign to:

  • raise awareness that NUJ members agree to uphold a code of conduct as a membership condition, that ethical journalism and collective strength within unionised workforces more effectively counter commercial and political pressures that insidiously encourage poor ethical practice;
  • promote union membership among all workers handling news and information (including PRs and website practitioners) to increase the quality and accountability of journalism (through joint memberships wherever available);
  • that unions and organisations concerned with ethical journalism should, to promote the principle of "union work for union members", wherever possible deal with NUJ members.

Tags: , tuc, disabled members, newspapers, ethics, leveson