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NUJ leader: We support independent regulation of the press, Hunt-Black plan would lead to licensing of journalists

 

NUJ leader Michelle Stanistreet has written to all members on the eve of the Leveson Inquiry insisting that union does not support state-regulation of the press - but wants a new independent regulator independent of both the Government and the press owners.

And she has warned that the Hunt-Black plan would  be akin to licensing of journalists.

She said: "From the outset of the Leveson inquiry, we demanded a conscience clause to safeguard journalists who object to being made to act unethically in the pursuit of a story. The industry - both the PCC and the Society of Editors - has repeatedly refused to bring in a conscience clause, despite the Home Affairs Select Committee backing the NUJ's campaign as long ago as 2003...

"It is significant that the unfolding scandal at News International happened in a workplace where the NUJ has been effectively blocked by Rupert Murdoch, where journalists working across the titles have been denied the collective representation of an independent trade union for a generation.

"We pointed to a model of regulation the NUJ is particularly familiar with - the Press Council of Ireland (PCI). The PCI is recognised under statute once it meets minimum standards which guarantee independence from ownership control. These minimum standards include civic society involvement and representation of the profession of journalism, which is provided by the NUJ. There is no direct or indirect State involvement in the regulatory system or in the work of the Press Ombudsman. No publisher is forced to join. If they do they enjoy legal privileges including a defence in libel actions. If they decide not to join they forfeit that benefit.

"The new, slightly beefed up PCC proposed by Lords Hunt and Black represents more of the same. It does not propose a conscience clause; they have ruled out the involvement of working journalists in the make-up of a PCC mark 2; and worryingly it suggests that this should be the body to determine who gets a press card. A system that could withdraw an individual journalists' press card - and livelihood - would transfer accountability from the publisher to the journalist. This is unacceptable and would be akin to the licensing of journalists, something the NUJ is wholly opposed to.

"The NUJ has argued for an independent regulatory body - independent of government and of the industry - that will:

  • protect free expression and a free press
  • ensure high standards of journalism
  • have the authority and ability to regulate all commercially-driven press
  • include, as does the Irish Press Council, union representatives
  • fully defend journalists who protect their sources
  • enshrine a conscience clause for journalist
  • take to task the bullying newsrooms exposed by our evidence to Leveson, recognising the vital role trade unions play in media newsrooms
  • have the power to instigate investigations, including acting on complaints from journalists
  • provide a right of reply
  • be backed by the ability to impose sanctions, such as fines
  • take third-party complaints, not allowed in the current system
  • represent members of the public

Stanistreet said:

The union does not back statutory regulation of the press. We support an independent system of regulation - independent from the industry and, crucially, from government. The long years the NUJ has campaigned for a more accountable press and for high standards of journalism have gone hand in hand with countless campaigns defending press freedom, battles to protect journalistic sources, and fights to extend the public's right to know. Our participation at the Leveson Inquiry has been a continuation of those campaigns and battles.

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