Artificial intelligence: journalism before algorithms

  • 02 Feb 2024

The NUJ’s AI campaign calls for urgent regulatory oversight promoting ethical approaches that centres the work of journalists.

Protect journalists' rights

The NUJ is calling for fast paced developments within AI to include engagement with journalists and those whose work is used in the technology. Threats of exploitation and intellectual property rights breaches have already been realised, with reports of inaccurate data used to inform AI generated stories, false attributions to journalists, and creators discovering use of their likeness without their knowledge or consent. Such advancements in the use of AI directly threaten journalism and risks the reputation of every journalist abiding by ethical standards to ensure accuracy and honesty through their work. 

The NUJ is engaging with sister unions including members of the Federation of Entertainment Unions, on AI’s impact on journalists and creators across industries. In September, the union hosted a roundtable attended by Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, and senior officials from Creators’ Rights Alliance member organisations exploring the scraping of content, licensing agreements, copyright and more.

Journalism by humans remains at the core of our calls to employers and governments. We have urged the UK government to engage with the union as Ministers shape policy that has huge implications for journalists and journalism. The NUJ must be central to discussions on decision making to ensure the voice of members including your concerns on pay, job security, and rights infringements are considered and used to inform guidance. 

As the use of AI is explored by employers, the NUJ is firm in its stance that valuing journalism by humans will ensure the role of journalists in upholding democracy, publishing stories in the public interest and holding the powerful to account is trusted. The union is engaging with employers considering ways to include or expand their use of AI across workplaces. Encouraging employers to draft key principles focused on ethical approaches, these must be shared with journalists and the union in meaningful engagement.

What is artificial intelligence?

There is no universally accepted definition of AI. The UK government states, “AI can be defined as the use of digital technology to create systems capable of performing tasks commonly thought to require intelligence.”

What is generative AI?

Generative AI is a type of artificial intelligence capable of creating new content in forms including text and images. Generative AI learns from data input into systems, noting their patterns and structures, resulting in output that appears to be created by humans. 

What are large language models?

LLMs are a type of generative AI able to predict new text by using vast data sets to understand and generate new content. LLMs cannot recognise whether their output is accurate and when errors occur these are called “hallucinations.” One of the most popular examples of a large language model is OpenAI’s ChatGPT, trained on 300 billion words obtained from the internet.  

What are the opportunities for AI within journalism?

When used ethically and with transparency, AI presents opportunities for good. The NUJ is keen to engage with employers on policies as they consider implementing AI tools into workflows.

AI could improve accessibility for disabled people e.g. generative AI produced alt text or visual data descriptions, supporting a wider group of people to engage with images.

Key Issues 

AI generated journalism cannot replace the talent, creativity or skill sets held by journalists. The use of AI must be considered against a background of pay stagnation, below-inflation wage increases, under-staffed newsrooms, and growing redundancies. Threats to journalists’ jobs are at the forefront of minds, and although many are already adapting to developments, governments and employers must recognise the benefits of a human-centred approach and invest in skills and training that considers the long-term sustainability of journalism. This includes adopting calls in the NUJ’s News Recovery Plan stressing the importance and value of local news to communities.

As elections in the UK, Ireland and elsewhere take place this year, governments must recognise the role of AI in the spread of misinformation and disinformation. Examples of political figures falling victim to deepfake technology has already occurred and been viewed by large audiences on social media.

Last year, an article titled “Should refugees in Ireland go home?” was published across titles owned by the Iconic Media Group. The use of clickbait on a subject the ChatGPT generated piece failed to consider in detail. The union reaffirmed its position that AI is no substitute for genuine journalism.


What action have UK and Irish governments taken?

The UK government’s approach relies on regulators producing guidance and applying principles within their remits. As the principles will be issued on a non-statutory basis, regulators will use their discretion on their application, assessing their relevance. The NUJ recognises that the fast-paced nature of AI requires clear frameworks that hold developers to high ethical standards with clear sanctions for breaches.

Government has confirmed it will publish a code of practice on copyright and AI, with aims to make licences for data mining more available. The NUJ is concerned that government’s focus on innovation may come at the expense of robust ethical AI practices and to the detriment of journalists whose rights are disregarded. We are calling on government to ensure it abides by commitments made on the code of practice, to ensure there are protections for rightsholders.

Publication of the EU AI Act is expected by April 2024, although it is unlikely to come into force until 2026. Providers and developers whose output falls within the EU must adhere to the Act, irrespective of their location. The NUJ has raised concerns over journalists’ right to redress should their content be used by AI models.

UK and Irish governments must introduce mandatory legislative frameworks requiring developers to adhere to agreed standards, protecting journalists and their rights. There is an urgent need for strengthened legal frameworks that hold developers to account and create accessible methods to seek redress where journalists’ rights are breached. Journalists including freelances, must have access to information on how their content can be removed by platforms unlawfully using material.

The NUJ has submitted a response to UK government’s consultation on AI and has briefed the NUJ Parliamentary Group formed of cross-party MPs with our calls. A submission has also been made to the Communications and Digital Committee’s call for evidence on large language models. We will continue to raise member concerns through structures in Ireland.

Last year, Michelle Stanistreet attended a government-led roundtable on AI and journalism exploring the opportunities of AI within the sector. Another planned on risks to journalism and trustworthy news will ensure the union’s views are fed to the UK’s culture secretary.


Natasha Hirst, NUJ president and chair of the union's photographers’ council, presented a paper at The Royal Photographic Society’s conference on artificial intelligence in October 2023, where topics included ethical issues around AI generated photography and intellectual property rights. 

Hirst emphasised that "copyright is the lifeblood of the creative industries" and stressed the importance of protecting livelihoods. The NUJ’s AI campaign calls for the intellectual property rights of photographers to be respected at all times. Although the creativity and skill sets photographers hold cannot be replicated by AI, new technologies pose a threat to the professional reputation of members. 

The NUJ engages with the National Police Chiefs’ Council, representing safety concerns relayed by photographers and videographers. As AI generated images without labelling on their creation using technologies spreads, there is growing concern possible threats to journalists’ safety.

Last year, Shutterstock announced it would provide the artificial intelligence company OpenAI, with access to its video, image and music libraries, allowing customers to edit and alter images. The NUJ has grave concerns about the impact of this approach on copyright owners and repeats its call for informed, transparent processes with creators fairly compensated for use of their works.

Licensing agreements

The NUJ calls for any agreements between media owners and AI companies to ensure licensing arrangements include representative organisations and agreements that allow journalists to receive fair payment for their work. 

​​​​​​​International impact

The union is liaising closely with the International Federation of Journalists, who have also called for the inclusion of journalists and representative bodies to be involved in discussions held between publishers and developers. The IFJ has stressed the need for “democratic discussion about how humanity can benefit from AI and how we can regulate its operation.”

Lobby your MP

Grahame Morris MP, co-chair of the NUJ Parliamentary Group has tabled an Early Day Motion urging government action requiring AI developers to respect the intellectual poperty rights of journalists. Read the EDM and ask your MP to join cross-party signatures. 

Help us spread awareness of our campaign by using this graphic on social media.

Useful guides

Guidance for NUJ members including on rights and copyright ownership.

Freelance Fact Pack

Freelance fess guide

 Rights and why they are important

Moral rights


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