Statement from Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary

  • 05 May 2023

Reporting of debates on motions at the NUJ’s recent delegate conference have focussed on the outcome of Motion 38. This motion, strongly supported by the NEC, suggested the union consider issuing a statement regarding reporting on issues of sex and gender. Whilst this motion was not carried, it does not mean that the union’s policy has changed.

Conference later gave permission for Late Notice Motion 21, which the NEC had sought to delete and replace with an alternative, to be withdrawn by the tabling body. This motion, which called for the NUJ to issue a statement in opposition to the use of Section 35 by the UK government in relation to the Scottish government’s Gender Recognition Reform Act, was therefore not debated.

As NUJ general secretary I wrote the NEC’s amendment to LNM21, which is rooted in the union’s existing policy and in our extensive work, both in regards to freedom of expression and also our work on the safety of journalists.

At a time when debate has become polarised, clear and ethical reporting is more important than ever, values that have been core and central to the NUJ’s Code of Conduct throughout the union’s history. Journalists accurately reporting any matter of public interest are entitled to the protection of the NUJ and the NUJ’s NEC will always have due regard to the primacy of the Code of Conduct.

The reality is that in the course of carrying out their work many journalists covering associated issues of public interest, including women’s rights, have been abused, threatened with violence and even driven out of their job. This is wholly unacceptable and no journalist should have to contend with bullying, abuse or threats in the course of their work.

The NUJ’s Ethics Council has already committed to review and update the union’s LGBT+ reporting guidelines, which already clearly express that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people have the right to fair, accurate and inclusive reporting of their life stories and concerns. The NUJ is also clear that it believes that media outlets have a leading role in creating a climate of open public discourse that is free of toxicity.

In carrying out this review, which will involve engagement across our membership, the NUJ will also be addressing the journalistic importance of clear and meaningful nationally-collected statistics, clear accessible language in reporting and the need for journalists to be able to report freely and without self-censorship.

The NUJ has taken no position on the UK government’s deployment of Section 35 in relation to the Scottish Gender Recognition Reform Act, nor would it be appropriate to do so when there is clearly a diversity of views about its impact on the Equality Act across the UK, including on sex-based rights. This is particularly pertinent when many of our members have jobs that involve reporting on these issues, including at public service broadcasters with a duty of impartiality.

The NUJ believes that principled and reasoned public discourse and an environment where free and fair reporting can flourish is more critical than ever.

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