Leveson says journalists need whistleblowing hotline and conscience clause

  • Leveson backs calls for NUJ-style conscience clause
  • Recommends scrapping the term 'off-the-record briefing' between police and journalists
  • Increased sentences for data protection breaches in wake of Operation Motorman
  • press should be 'as transparent as possible in relation to sources'

Lord Justice Leveson has called for a new whistleblowing hotline for journalists and the creation of a “conscience” clause in employment contracts.

In today’s eagerly awaited report, Leveson recommended that a new statutory-backed press regulator should establish a whistleblowing hotline for those journalists asked to behave in a way that breaches their code of conduct.

The National Union of Journalists has long campaigned for the creation of a so-called conscience clause in journalists’ employment contracts and today appeared to have won the support of Leveson.

One of the recommendations contained in today’s report said: “The industry generally and a regulator in particular should consider requiring its members to include in the employment or service contracts with journalists a clause to the effect that no disciplinary action would be taken against a journalist as a result of a refusal to act in a manner which is contrary to the code of practice.”

Another recommendation was for every newspaper to publish compliance reports and appoint a named senior individual to take on responsibility for compliance and standards, a plan first put forward by Telegraph Media Group executive director Lord Black.

Elsewhere, Leveson called for the term “off-the-record briefing” to be scrapped and replaced with the term “non-reportable briefing” in his recommendations on the relationship between police and the press.

In today’s report into the culture, practice and ethics of the press, Leveson said the term “non-reportable briefing” should be used to cover a “background briefing which is not to be reported”, and the term “embargoed briefing” for situations where the content of the briefing “may be reported but not until a specified time or event”.

Senior ranking officers should also be made to record all contact with the media and make the record publicly available, although he notes this should be “no more than a very brief note to the effect that a conversation has taken place and the subject matter of that conversation”.

He also recommended that in situations where a “policy of organisational” matter is being discussed a press officer should always be present.

Likewise, politicians should detail all meetings with media proprietors, newspaper editors and senior executives on a quarterly basis.  

Leveson also called for increased sentencing powers for when journalists breach the Data Protection Act.

The new regulatory body should also encourage the press to be “as transparent as possible in relation to sources and the source material for its stories”.

Leveson insisted that was “not in any way to undermine the importance of protecting journalistic source”, adding: “where information is in the public domain there is no reason why the press should not actively help their readers to find it if they want to; neither is there any reason not to be as clear as is consistent with the protection of sources about where a story comes from”.

Commenting on the conscience clause, NUJ general secretary Stanistreet 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 NUJ has been campaigning for years for a conscience clause in contracts of employment and we are delighted that Lord Justice Leveson has listened to the voice of journalists.

“The NUJ will now do all it can to ensure that when journalists stand up for a principle of journalistic ethics they have a contractual protection against being dismissed.

“Now is the time to build a solid framework that gives journalists the confidence and the security to put their head above the parapet and take a stand for ethical journalism.

“A journalist should always have the right to refuse assignments and no journalist should be disciplined or suffer detriment to their career for asserting his or her right to act ethically.

“The new independent self-regulatory body should ensure that journalists’ contracts include a conscience clause."

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