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#Ingoodcompany - celebrating independent, quality, ethical journalism & the Real Lives strike

Late agony aunt Claire Rayner, DJ Mike Smith & a youthful Jeremy Paxman, left, on the picket line outside Television Centre 1985  -  © TUC Library at London Metropolitan University

14 February 2018

This year on Valentines day the NUJ has called on members to say why they love independent, quality, ethical journalism.

The day of online activity today follows a motion discussed and agreed at the union's last conference. The motion highlighted the widely supported and highly effective 24-hour strike by NUJ members in 1985, known as the Real Lives strike, in protest at censorship and in defence of editorial independence at the BBC. 

The motion agreed on the need to raise awareness of the benefits for society of independent and ethical journalism as well as the need to highlight examples of journalists taking individual or collective action in its defence.

NUJ member, Tony Harcup, explains the significance:

"This year Valentine’s Day is also a chance for NUJ members to say how much we value journalism and the good it contributes to society. The idea for what amounts to a journalists’ ‘pride’ day started with a Leeds and Wakefield branch proposal to remember the time that thousands of journalists, technicians and other staff walked out in protest at the censorship of a piece of BBC current affairs reporting.
"That defence of the Real Lives TV documentary about Northern Ireland in 1985 forced the government to back-off and gave BBC bosses enough backbone to screen the programme.

"It should be a source of pride for all union members that the biggest and most successful broadcasting strike in the NUJ’s history was not over pay or pensions but in defence of good, ethical and independent journalism.

"Standing up for journalism will be celebrated on Wednesday 14 February this year as part of the NUJ’s In Good Company day, which will give everyone the chance to declare how much they value quality journalism at a local, national or international level.
"As journalists we are not universally loved, and it is true that a small number of miscreants can get us all a bad name. But the social good that comes from journalism far outweighs the bad, whether it is keeping tabs on what councils or NHS Trusts are getting up to, bringing people weather warnings, recording local community activities, investigating matters of war and peace, or countless other things large and small.
"Society needs journalism - and we’ll be in good company saying so along with fellow NUJ members this Valentine’s Day."

The union picked the hashtag theme for the day as #ingoodcompany to encourage people to say why the NUJ is important too, and our current members are ‘in good company’ with other journalists who are trade union members both present and past.

At the time of the Real Lives strike 2,000 BBC journalists walked out, and ITN journalists also went on strike.

It was unprecendent industrial action, standing up for ethical journalism and the public's right to know. The NUJ is very proud of this historic and successful campaign.  

Watch the BBC Breakfast News video about the dispute.

Watch the RTÉ News report from 7 August 1985.

Watch a programme by TU/TV for the NUJ and the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom about the 1985 industrial action

The late television producer, presenter and NUJ member, Steve Hewlett, was on a picket line outside BBC Television Centre in London on August 7, 1985 and said:

"The only hope there is for the freedom of broadcasting in the end is proper funding for the industry and strong unions inside it. It’s the journalists and those who work in the industry, who stand up for the freedom of broadcasting, not the employers, not the governors, not the government even. It’s the journalists. Only when we’re properly organised can we ensure that some sense of press and broadcasting freedom exists."

In 2015 confidential minutes of a series of BBC crisis meetings laid bare the depth of outrage felt among all ranks of BBC employees from the newsroom floor up to senior managers and executives at the time of the dispute. The minutes of the Board of Management meeting on 5 August 1985 recorded a warning from Austen Kark, then in charge of the World Service, about "the grave international consequences for the BBC of any decision not to show the documentary".

As Press Gazette reported: On 7 August 1985, the day Real Lives had been scheduled for transmission, the World Service carried no news for the first time in its history. It was silenced along with all other BBC news services during the most effective 24-hour strike ever called by the National Union of Journalists. That strike against censorship made headlines around the world, with key organiser Vincent Hanna telling a US TV crew: "Nothing like this has ever happened in Britain before."

Real Lives was broadcast virtually unaltered several weeks after the strike.

In 2018 with countless newspaper closures, job cuts, and fake news - independent, quality, ethical journalism is important now more than ever before. 

Tags: , real lives, northern ireland, broadcasting, censorship, industrial action, strike, itn, bbc, ethics, in good company