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NUJ working with Leveson to protect journalists giving evidence

16 November 2011

The NUJ is working with the Leveson Inquiry team to ensure that journalists who wish to contribute to the Inquiry can give their testimony in confidence, to protect them from retribution by employers. The union has core participant status to represent Britain's professional journalists at the inquiry .

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, told the inquiry in an opening statement:

"The NUJ is making a good deal of effort to identify journalists to give evidence and to share their experiences with the Inquiry.
"However, the stark reality is that in many workplaces there is a genuine climate of fear about speaking out. In order that it is not simply those who have retired, or who have been made redundant and left the industry, who feel able to make a contribution we are working with the Inquiry team to ensure that journalists who wish to contribute to the Inquiry can give their testimony in confidence, to afford them protection from retribution.
"The fear is not of immediate punishment but of finding that a few months after your Inquiry ends a journalist who has spoken out may find herself on a list of redundancies.
"The reality is that putting your head above the parapet and speaking out publicly is simply not an option for many journalists, who would fear losing their job or making themselves unemployable in the future.
"In our experience, that fear has been a significant factor in inhibiting journalists from defending the principles of ethical journalism in the workplace – and in media organisations hostile to the concept of trade unions there is a particular problem."

Michelle Stanistreet said the inquiry had come about because of dogged and determined investigation by journalists. She said that people became journalists:

"because they want to make a difference; they want to play their part in holding power to account, to shining a light in those dark recesses of society. They want to do their job well, professionally, and they want to keep their communities informed and expose wrongdoing."

She said this was a very challenging and insecure time for journalists because of the scale of cutbacks, redundancies, casualisation and entire closure of titles in the industry.

"This has been the inevitable result of the entire economic model within the newspaper industry. Greedy employers have stripped profitable and once-proud newspaper titles of their assets.
"When the days of 25 or 30 per cent profits ended, rather than settle for more modest profits that would do nicely for most of our major blue-chips, the response of the major newspaper groups was to slash costs and cut the bottom line, sacrificing quality and content in the process.
"This is not a sustainable business model and we're seeing the results of this bad management on a daily basis with ever more cutbacks and redundancies. These owners are playing fast and loose with our industry. You can't do that without sacrificing quality journalism; you can't do it without cheating readers of the newspapers they deserve; and you can't do it without sounding the death knell of an industry that plays such a critical role in our society."

Michelle Stanistreet pointed out that at the heart of any newspaper culture was the editor.

"For anyone who's worked in a newsroom, the concept of an editor who didn't know just what their troops were getting up to is laughable. Editors rule the roost. They set the tone – not just in the editorial line of their newspapers but in the way that the newsroom operates. What's accepted, what's not; the tone of an editorial conference; whether bullying – sadly commonplace - goes unchecked; the dispensing of praise or the nature of the inevitable roasting when the goods aren't delivered.
"To imagine editors as mere bystanders whose underling reporters run rings round them would be fanciful in the extreme. That's why, to anyone with any journalistic nous, the peddling of the line that hacking was the action of a 'single rogue reporter' operating in splendid isolation was as daft as it was unbelievable."

The NUJ general secretary also said:

"One of the key ways of ensuring 'systems within an organisation which promote or induce good behaviours and tend to expose bad behaviours' is for journalists to have the protection of a trade union.
"The establishment of collective bargaining as one vital means of preventing the unacceptable "culture, practices and ethics" under investigation in this Inquiry should not be seen as some form of special pleading on behalf of a vested interest group.
"We believe there is a clear link between a strong trade union presence in a workplace and a strong ethical awareness. Collective trade union representation is a moral, human right and journalists should not be denied this right in our newspapers."

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Tags: , press freedom, leveson, ethics, rights