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NUJ to raise questions about protection of journalistic integrity at Telegraph

20 February 2015

The NUJ is writing to the Telegraph ahead of a planned meeting next week.

The union is due to meet the management to talk about pay and will now raise questions about proposed new guidelines on relations between advertising and editorial and the protection of journalistic integrity; it will then met the union's chapel to discuss the negotiations.

In a leader today, the Telegraph was unrepentant about burying coverage of the bank's Swiss subsidiary, which helped wealthy customers to dodge taxes and conceal assets. It has since been revealed that the bank had previously threatened to withdraw advertising money.

It also emerged that journalists were then pulled off stories that were critical of the bank. The news was broken by the newspaper's former chief political commentator, Peter Oborne, who resigned from the paper and accused it of perpetrating a "fraud on its readers".

The Telegraph said it would now be drawing up guidelines that will "define clearly and openly how our editorial and commercial staff will co-operate in an increasingly competitive media industry, particularly in digital publishing, an area whose journalistic and commercial importance can only grow".

Laura Davison, NUJ national organiser, said:

"It's pretty shocking that these don't already exist. Any guidelines drawn up must as a minimum be done in consultation. The starting point should not be one of co-operation with commercial but the protection of editorial integrity and a mechanism for journalists to speak out if they are under pressure. This should include the insertion of a conscience clause in their contracts. Journalists need to be protected and enabled to do the job they came into the industry to do without fear or favour, regardless of ownership. "

Professor Chris Frost, chair of the NUJ's ethics council, said it also highlighted a failure of the new press regulator IPSO; its code does not cover conflicts of journalism and commercial pressures.

The NUJ's code of conduct says journalists should "resist threats or any other inducements to influence, distort or suppress information" and "does not by way of statement, voice or appearance endorse by advertisement any commercial product or service save for the promotion of her/his own work or of the medium by which she/he is employed".

Murdoch MacLennan, chief executive of the Telegraph Group, is a member of the board of IPSO's funding body.

Peter Oborne wrote on OpenDemocracy explaining why he had resigned:

"The reporting of HSBC is part of a wider problem. On 10 May last year the Telegraph ran a long feature on Cunard's Queen Mary II liner on the news review page. This episode looked to many like a plug for an advertiser on a page normally dedicated to serious news analysis. I again checked and certainly Telegraph competitors did not view Cunard's liner as a major news story. Cunard is an important Telegraph advertiser.
"The paper's comment on last year's protests in Hong Kong was bizarre. One would have expected the Telegraph of all papers to have taken a keen interest and adopted a robust position. Yet (in sharp contrast to competitors like the Times) I could not find a single leader on the subject."

Tags: , telegraph media group, conscience clause, advertising, ethics, opendemocracy, newspapers, peter oborne, telegraph, media reform