NUJ general secretary, Michelle Stanistreet, has commented that “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” and that a “new independent self-regulatory body should ensure that journalists’ contracts include a conscience clause”.
Following today’s Leveson Report publication the NUJ has revealed that the union is pleased Lord Justice Leveson has backed its long-standing campaign for a conscience clause, but expressed its disappointment that Lord Leveson did not address the issue of media ownership and plurality within the press.
Stanistreet added: 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.”
The executive summary of the Leveson Report states that there was “evidence of journalists who felt that they might be put under pressure to do things that were unethical or against the code”
A recommendation for “a new independent self-regulatory body” was made which should also “establish a whistle-blowing hotline and encourage its members to ensure that journalists’ contracts
include a conscience clause protecting them if they refuse.”
Stanistreet commented further: “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 NUJ welcomes Lord Justice Leveson’s support for a free press and independent regulation of the press - independent of both government and of the industry.
“We’re also pleased that the recommendations include civic society involvement and the recommendation that the new body needs an independent chair and board appointed in a fair and transparent process.
“The NUJ supports the recommendation that the new body should accept third party complaints, provide incentives and tackle prejudicial or pejorative references to race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or physical or mental illness or disability.”
However Stanistreet furthered that the NUJ was disappointed that Lord Leveson had “not made recommendations in relation to media ownership and plurality,” citing that the News International scandal happened within a company that has a 35.15 per cent share of the market.
Stanistreet concluded that the NUJ was now looking further at “the details of the report”.
Update: Speaking to The Drum earlier today NUJ Irish secretary, Seamus Dooley, cautioned the media to beware of an "overreaction to the report".
Dooley commented: "He [Lord Leveson] has not proposed the establishment of a statutory press council and this does not represent state control of the media and I think that there has been a lot of hysterical debate in the run up to the publication around the issues of state control.
"He has come up with a model that gives an element of what’s called statutory underpinning, we do not believe it represents any sort of threat to freedom of expression, and it would be unfortunate if debate on what is a very comprehensive report were in some way to be touted by a rush to judgement on what is a fairly considered proposal."
Dooley added that the hoped the media would "take a step back and be generous in its approach" to the recommendations and that there would not be "an automatic knee-jerk reaction, because this is not state control".
In conclusion Dooley said that "statutory underpinning" of the press was "not new territory for British media orgnaisations" and cited the example of the Republic of Ireland's system of statutory underpinning where "the editor of the Irish Sun was a member of the first Irish press council and a senior executive of News International sits on the management committee".