DM 2021: Late notice motions (international)

  • 23 May 2021

DM agreed motions on media freeedom, Palestine and Black Lives Matter

Composite D (covering LNMs 18 and 19) was agreed by conference and it welcomed the launch last December by the IFJ of the White Paper on Global Journalism to commemorate its 30 years of annual reports of killed journalists. The document also lifted the veil on the worrying global trend of declining media freedoms and global attacks and cuts to journalism.

Cailin Mackenzie spoke in the debate on behalf of the NEC and said: "press freedom is under attack from all sides across the globe". The seconder of the motion, Di Peasey from the Nottingham branch remarked that "it is very sad that so many journalists across the globe are being intimidated, harassed, arrested and shot".

Sister unions all over world have, since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, been confronting a global crackdown on journalists by governments implementing sweeping restrictions under the guise of combating misinformation and “fake news.”

These range from China’s suppression of information and state censorship to the revocation of journalists’ credential as it happened to the Guardian correspondent in Egypt or the enactment of new laws in South Africa that makes it a crime to publish “disinformation” about the pandemic, new fake news ordinance in Malaysia or the new legislation promulgated by Viktor Orbán in Hungary which threatens journalists with up to five years in prison.

DM recalled the former US president Donald Trump lashing out at journalists who asked critical questions at the height of the pandemic and his reported 2500 negative tweets which contributed to creating a toxic environment against the media in the US.

The media crackdown is no longer confined to the usual suspects which continue to lead the league table of jailing journalists – such as Turkey, Egypt, China, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia and Belarus. It now also includes cases of mass detention of journalists doing their job covering major events only to be released without charges, as happened in the US where the US Press Freedom tracker reported at least 110 journalists arrested or criminally charged in 2020 in relation to their reporting.

Journalists covering protests against coronavirus restrictions have often been physically attacked by members or supporters of extremist and conspiracy-theory groups in Germany, Italy and France where new legislation “the global security bill” is being introduced that would restrict the publication of photos and video footage of the police at demonstrations.

It is crucial for the NUJ to stand up against the erosion of press freedom which is fast expanding worldwide far beyond the autocratic regimes and is now impacting in Europe where violence against journalists has increased, and new legislation is being enacted limiting the right to inform.

DM instructed the NUJ to participate in the global effort led by the IFJ in standing up for press freedom and the rights of journalists by mobilising members, working in parliament to help with campaigns led by sister unions, joining the global campaign advocating for the release of the more than 250 journalists around the world who have been jailed for their work, voice concerns to the TUC and the UK Foreign Office, and help the IFJ in lobbying international institutions to enact binding instruments to protect journalists such as the IFJ International Convention on the Safety and Independence of Journalists

Jim Boumelha on behalf of the NEC moved LNM 30 about Palestine. The motion condemned in the strongest terms the deliberate targeting of journalists and media organisation by the Israeli forces as they stormed the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem on 7 May, which, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent, resulted in over 250 worshippers being injured.

The motion also acknowledged that the attacks continued in the following days and spread to other cities. By 12 May, Israel had carried out hundreds of air strikes in Gaza, killing at least 35, while Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups fired multiple rockets killing five Israelis. At the beginning of DM week, nearly 200 people in Gaza and 10 in Israel had been killed.

Jim said: "in this debate we should remind ourselves of the union’s level of commitment to Palestinian journalists over the last 40 years, we have done everything in our power to help". He added that Palestinian journalists "have the right to tell the truth and the world has the right to hear their stories".

Di Peasey from the Nottingham branch seconded the motion and said: "what has happened in Gaza has been absolutely dreadful … as journalists who work in all parts of the world, to have your office destroyed by rockets is absolutely unacceptable".

Conference joined the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) in deploring the targeting of journalists, mainly photographers and videographers, by the Israeli police despite the fact that they were wearing and carrying press emblems identifying them as newsgatherers.

According to the Palestine Journalists’ Syndicate (PJS), some 15 journalists were shot by rubber bullets and stun grenades, some incurring serious injuries, while they covered events at Al Aqsa and at Sheikh Jarah, Bab Al Amoud and Wad El Joz. Others were injured while reporting on unfolding events at Camp Salem, North Jenine and Aqraba, South of Nablus. Their names are Mahmoud Aliane; Rajai Al Khateb; Diala Jawaihane; Misaa Abu Ghazala; Lewaa Abu Armeela; Ahmed As Sharif; Mustapha Al Kharoof; Rami Al Khateeb; Fayeez AbuArmeelah; Nadir Bayarsee; Wahbi Mekeyah; Zeena Al Halwani, Layali Eid; Faras Ed Debs; and Ithar Abu Gharbia.

At the beginning of DM week, the number of injured journalists throughout the West Bank and Gaza has climbed to 110 and these statistics have been documented by the PJS.

DM shared the outrage of the IFJ and the PJS at Israel's wanton destruction of media offices and studios in Gaza, described by the union as targeted and deliberate. The NUJ agreed to join calls for the Israel government to compensate the medias for their losses.

On 11 May the Al Jawhara tower which hosted the offices of 13 media organisations was flattened, this was followed by the destruction on 13 May of the Al Shorouk tower housing 15 media organisations, and on 15 May, the Al Jalaa tower housing the offices of Al Jazeera and Associate Press was razed to the ground. Israel’s PM Benyamin Netanyahu described the tower as a "legitimate" target.

DM was outraged over the attack and destruction by Israel on 15 May of the Al‐Jalaa tower which hosted the offices of the Associated Press (AP) and Al‐Jazeera. Although notice was given which allowed for evacuation, there was not enough time to save much of the media equipment. Not only have journalists lost the building they worked in, they have lost many of the tools to do their job.

Conference applauded the IFJ’s lobbying of the Security Council meeting, with the support of its unions from the UK, Ireland and France, to demand that the UN takes immediate action to protect journalists.

DM deplores the one‐sided statement by the UK Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Dominic Raab, which condemned the firing of rockets and ignored the horrendous violence against Palestinians meted out by the Israeli authorities and in particular their treatment of journalists and the media.

The UK government’s response has contrasted with the response of the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, who condemned the unacceptable loss of life in Gaza and reminded the Israeli ambassador in Ireland of Israel’s obligation to adhere to international humanitarian law.

For years the IFJ has made representation to the Israeli authorities regarding their deliberate attacks against journalists. An NUJ delegation met with Israel’s ambassador to the UK in 2019 only to be told that these were not journalists but propagandists.

The PJS 2020 annual report documented over 600 violations against journalists – 490 violations by the Israeli army and security forces, 76 cases in the Gaza Strip by Hamas' security forces and 42 attacks in the West Bank perpetrated by Palestinian security forces.

The NUJ supports the campaigning efforts of the IFJ, in particular the demand that its International Press Card is recognised by the Israeli authorities, and the federation’s engagement with UN agencies to continuously raise the attacks and contraventions of international law.

Palestinian journalists should not have to endure almost daily physical attacks and humiliation just for doing their job. Conference agreed that now is the time to give them the support they need to put a stop to this impunity.

Conference instructed the NEC to back AP’s calls for an independent inquiry into the attack by Israel on the Al‐Jalaa tower including what justification was there for the attack, what evidence there is that Hamas were using the building and what other options could have been taken other than destroying the building.

Conference also condemned the death threat issued against the Israeli television journalist Dana Weiss as well as the multiple attacks on Israeli journalists, mainly by right‐wing Israelis. The union called on all sides of the conflict to allow journalists to do their jobs.

The Dublin broadcasting branch suggested an amendment to LNM 30 to say that DM agrees with the judgement of Al Jazeera Jerusalem bureau chief Walid al‐Omari that "those who are waging this war do not only want to spread destruction and death in Gaza, but also to silence media that are witnessing, documenting and reporting the truth of what is happening in Gaza".

The amendment acknowledged the recent assertions by Human Rights Watch that the Israeli authorities are implementing apartheid and persecution. Human Rights Watch said: “the Israeli government has pursued an intent to maintain the domination of Jewish Israelis over Palestinians throughout the territory it controls. In the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem, that intent has been coupled with systematic oppression of Palestinians and inhumane acts committed against them".

The amendment was moved by Emma O'Kelly, she said: "the motion as it stands lacks context and gives no rationale as to why Israel is attacking journalists and media organisations". Damien Tiernan also supported the amendment and said: "it’s about human rights and justice" and described Israel’s behaviour as "unethical bullying" by a state.

Ronan Brady from the Dublin P and PR branch spoke against the amendment by saying: "the motion nails the issue of bias and the role of the Israeli government and talks about the attempts to silence journalism". Gerry Curran described the amendment as " incendiary and unnecessary". James Doherty from the Glasgow branch added that: "I believe Israel is an apartheid state and I have reported from the West Bank … [but] if the NUJ declares Israel as an apartheid state it would be a political declaration" that would impact on member's reporting work. The amendment was not supported by conference.

The second amendment to LNM 30 was proposed by London central branch. The amendment instructed the union to work with groups such as Media Workers for Palestine in developing initiatives to help give a voice to Palestinians and support journalists and media workers in the region. Steve Sweeney moved the amendment by saying that: "international solidarity is the cornerstone of what we do” and "it is our duty to take a side and stand with the Palestinians, neutrality is not an option". Cailin Mackenzie called on delegates to reject the amendment because it instructs the union to work with specific organisations and because it is not the job of the NUJ to give a voice to others. The amendment was not supported by conference.

In wrapping up for the NEC on LNM 30, Jim Boumelha said that: "the task of a union of journalists is to help other journalists" and the motion was carried.

LNM 34 was tabled by the London freelance branch and carried. Elizabeth Ingrams from the branch put forward the motion and said nuclear weapons are "the most pressing threat to existence on this planet". The motion instructed the union to campaign within the trade union movement with the aim of ensuring that the UK government participates, at least as an observer, if not a signatory, in the first meeting of the signatories of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) in January 2022 in Vienna. The current UK government is proposing to expand the UK's nuclear weapons programme by 40 per cent.

Motion 96 was proposed by the London freelance branch and amended by the NEC. The motion was carried. When speaking to the motion branch delegate Safiullah Tazib said: "our branch is in solidarity with Afghan journalists and their union in Kabul … attacks on Afghan journalists remain very high and this year alone six Afghan journalists have been killed". He added: "the NUJ can play a productive role in helping the journalists’ union in Afghanistan to develop and thrive". Seconding the motion Jim Boumelha said the IFJ had been engaged in the country for 20 years and helped found the union.

Conference applauded the role played by the NUJ in securing justice for BBC journalist Naga Munchetty who was victimised by the broadcaster’s management for calling out Trump’s racism on air. Journalist Afua Hirsch rightly states: “racism falls into the exemptions to do with impartiality in the [BBC guidelines].” DM instructed the union to support NUJ members fighting racism in workplaces, work to improve the BBC guidelines and to give confidence to colleagues to report racism. Motion 148 was carried and moved by Marc Wadsworth on behalf of the Black members council, he said: “hundreds of journalists complained about BBC's managers behaviour and I’m pleased to say NUJ members were at the forefront of that backlash.”

LNM 11 was the last motion discussed at conference and was tabled by the South Yorkshire branch. The motion highlighted the conviction of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd as victory for Black Lives Matters protests. DM agreed the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report's findings amount to wilful ignorance. Conference also acknowledged the resignation of Ian Murray as head of The Society of Editors after protests over his claim that there was no racism in the media. Conference instructed the union to step up campaigning against racism in the media. In speaking to the motion Julia Armstrong said: “we want a campaign that involves everyone, that’s what this motion is about, we have been inspired by Black Lives Matter and we’re active in our local area as individuals and as a branch, we are trying to take action in our workplaces, we want a union campaign that we can all get behind”. The motion was carried.

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