DM2023: Members of Honour

  • 29 Apr 2023

Delegates watched a video celebrating the 2023 Members of Honour: Chris Mullin, Dr John Lister and Chris Wheal.

The NUJ’s 2023 Members of Honour were announced, and delegates watched a video of friends and colleagues explaining why Chris Mullin, John Lister and Chris Wheal had been awarded the union’s highest accolade.

The three were recognised for taking a strong and principled stand in protecting their source, for their activism on NUJ bodies, and as renowned specialists in their fields of journalism.

Chris Mullin is a former Labour Party minister, renowned political diarist of the Tony Blair years and investigative journalist responsible for securing the release of the Birmingham Six, once described as 'one of the greatest feats ever achieved by an investigative reporter'. Last year, together with the NUJ, he saw off an attempt by West Midland Police to reveal his source. In her report to conference, Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary, described standing outside the Old Bailey with Chris and his lawyers to celebrate winning the right not to hand over notes concerning his work which led to the release of the six Irishmen wrongly imprisoned for the 1974 bombs set off in two pubs in Birmingham killed 21 people and injuring many more.

As a journalist Chris reported from wars in Vietnam, Laos, but it was while working for Granada’s World in Action he broadcast the story which led to the release of the six men, and he later wrote Error of Judgment: The Truth About the Birmingham Pub Bombings. His diaries showed his ambivalence about being a minister and it was as chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee that he believed he wielded more influence. He represented as an MP for Sunderland South for 23 years and has published four novels, including A Very British Coup which was filmed for TV.

Gareth Peirce, a former journalist, now a solicitor and human rights activist, worked with him on the Birmingham Six case. “How lucky those six men were,” she said. “And what a comrade he is.” She praised him as a brilliant journalist and writer, and his skills as politician.

Chris Frost, chair of the NUJ’s Ethics Council, said he was a highly ethical journalist making sure he got good sources and was accurate and truthful – and that he protected his sources in one of the most important stories of our times.

Delegates at DM will have spotted Dr John Lister sitting on the platform, in his 24-year role on the NUJ’s Standing Orders Committee (SOC) which springs into action in the run up to DM to ensure motions are in order, within the union’s rules and they receive a full and fair debate. His day job is as a senior lecturer in journalism and health journalism at Coventry University and he is a founder member of Keep Our NHS Public campaign. He has written and researched health services stories and health policy issues for trade union, including Unison, and other national and international organisations for almost 30 years.

To mark the 60th anniversary of the National Health Service he wrote the hugely respected The NHS After 60: for Patients or Profits? He was commissioned by the BMA to write the peer-reviewed pamphlet Warning! NHS market reforms are damaging our health service. He was also involved in a seven-country EU-funded project to improve the training of health reporters.

His standing order committee colleague Pauline Norris recalls meeting the Brain May lookalike with a curly mop of hair, and praised his crossword puzzle mind and good humour that has seen him through the many long hours on the SOC.  Anna Wagstaff speaks of his contribution to Oxford branch – providing a cheerful and steady hand during the tough times including Wapping and the three-year strike at Robert Maxwell’s Pergamon Press.

Chris Wheal is an award-winning freelance journalist and trainer and together with his wife Kate runs Wheal Associates which produces magazines, news, features and online writing, plus copy-writing and journalism training. He has edited three trade magazines and three websites, written for national newspapers and consumer magazines. He was chair of the NUJ’s Members in Need Fund and later steered through the creation of NUJ Extra. Spurred by his experience following a car accident, he was determined to raise funds to help journalists in need of welfare. The charity came into its own under his stewardship during the pandemic, offering a lifeline to members in financial difficulties after losing their jobs or shifts because of lockdowns, cuts or ill-health. Chris was also a member of the board of the Broadcast Journalism Training Council, one of the largest journalism accreditation bodies in the UK.

Broadcaster Ushma Rose gave an emotional testimony to the huge help Chris and the charity gave her in a time of need. “He helped me and my family get our lives back,” she said.

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