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NUJ defends Scottish journalists against bullying and intimidation

23 August 2012

The NUJ Scottish Executive Council has expressed concern at the increase in intimidation and bullying of journalists and is keen to contribute to the debate about the role of the media in coverage of Scottish politics.

For some years, there has been a growing hostility to journalists doing their jobs, as is already evident in sports reporting on issues such as the Old Firm. Much of this is fuelled by the availability of social media, allowing contributors anonymity to make personal attacks on individuals.

The tone of the debate seems to have made it increasingly common for those who do not wish anonymity – some of them in prominent and responsible positions – to make personal attacks on journalists for doing their jobs.

This is changing the nature of journalism. News organisations need to be aware that employers have a responsibility to provide a duty of care to their employees, to protect their reputations and to ensure they are able to carry out their roles free from intimidation and bullying.

The NUJ will not accept this treatment of their members and have already advised a number of journalists in making legal complaints to the police. We will also name and shame individuals and organisations that continue to threaten or bully our members.

More widely, the NUJ asks those in positions of leadership to consider carefully the implications of their attacks on journalists for asking challenging questions. If that is to be interpreted as bias, and therefore the journalist is deemed to be open to personal criticism and abuse, then the nature of public debate will be debased, and we will all suffer.

The NUJ is also challenging news organisations, and editors, to question their own values when they give column inches or airtime to attacks on journalists from rival organisations. Journalists need to ask where that leaves our role, collectively, in holding those in power to account.

There are big political decisions ahead for Scotland. The independence referendum campaign probably has more than two years to run. The NUJ believes there should be increased opportunities across the media for robust exchanges.

But the union also believes it is essential that respect is shown to participants if journalists are to maximise the number of people willing to take part in those debates. They also need to respect the role of journalists in fairly moderating those debates, and refrain from intimidation and personal abuse.

In particular, the NUJ is concerned about threats about future employment at the country's main broadcaster as well as public labelling of journalists and programmes as being biased. BBC Scotland's journalism is rightly scrutinised very closely by people and parties on all sides of the political debate.

No journalist working for the organisation has a problem with this. However, there is an increasing trend towards the intimidation of BBC journalists, who are working hard to hold politicians of all sides to account in the referendum debate.

Paul Holleran, NUJ Scottish Organiser, added:

"In recent weeks, protesters outside the BBC offices in Glasgow handed out leaflets warning journalists that they faced losing their jobs in an independent Scotland, as a result of allegedly being biased in favour of the union.
"This week, the Labour MP, Ian Davidson, accused one of the corporation's most experienced and talented journalists of political bias against the union, and levelled the same accusation at the makers of the programme Newsnight Scotland. He did so without producing any evidence to back his claims.
"Robust debate is fine. Pointing out when journalists get their facts wrong is expected and welcomed. But NUJ members believe in a free press, a fair media, with journalists allowed to do their jobs free of intimidation. We hope the politicians, and those who follow politics take this on board and act with a bit of maturity and understanding of the role of journalists in holding those in power to account."

Tags: , bullying, intimidation, BBC, broadcasting, Scottish referendum