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NUJ calls for absolute clarity on proposed Northern Ireland press review

10 May 2018

The National Union of Journalists has called for full consultation with the union on the terms of reference for a proposed review of press standards in Northern Ireland.

In the House of Commons on Wednesday evening (May 9) the government accepted a proposal from the Democratic Unionist Party for a review of press standards in Northern Ireland while successfully opposing a proposal for a second stage Leveson Inquiry in the UK. The Northern Ireland review coincides with a UK-wide review of journalists' compliance with new data protection regulations.

Séamus Dooley, assistant general secretary, said there is a need for "absolute clarity" on the scope and nature of any inquiry. He said:

"The  NUJ will be seeking full consultation on the terms of reference of the proposed inquiry by an independent reviewer appointed by UK culture minister, Matt Hancock.
"We are surprised that a specific review of the press in Northern Ireland has been announced. The confused manner of the announcement suggests that the proposal has not been properly thought out and may be motivated by political expediency.  We are seeking urgent engagement on the terms of reference for the review.

"It would have been more appropriate if such a review had formed part of the terms of reference of the Leveson Two process. Northern Ireland was excluded from the remit of the original inquiry although a number of Northern Ireland witnesses gave evidence to Lord Justice Leveson, including local newspaper editors.  

"It would have been possible to include a Northern Ireland strand in Leveson if that was deemed necessary. Instead we had the farcical situation of Matt Hancock rejecting Leveson Two  while simultaneously promising the DUP what Ian Paisley MP has described as 'Leveson for Northern Ireland'.

"From an NUJ perspective there needs to be wide-ranging consultation on the terms of reference for any inquiry. The appointed person need not be a lawyer. There is a compelling case for a broad ranging commission, which would examine the range of challenges facing journalism and journalists in Northern Ireland, including economic challenges faced by the industry, conditions of employment, recent threats to journalists and the failure of the Police Service of Northern Ireland to properly investigate the murder of Martin O'Hagan.

"The lack of media diversity and difficulties faced by those seeking to enter the profession, including women and those from ethnic minority backgrounds is also of concern.  If there is to be an inquiry into the press in Northern Ireland, let it be independent, meaningful and worthwhile.  It cannot simply be a sop to those who may have an axe to grind."

Tags: , northern ireland, leveson, review, press regulation, Democratic Unionist Party, Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI, Martin O'Hagan, media plurality