Activist journalists out of bounds

May 3, 2007

May. 2, 2007 12:00 AM

From The Arizona Republic Newspaper, Phoenix, USA

Well, the jig is up. Journalists are taking sides on political issues.

Make that some journalists. Some wrongheaded, activist journalists in Great Britain, to be more specific, have concluded they must boycott Israel for its “savage, pre-planned attack on Lebanon” last year.

Representatives of Britain’s 40,000-member National Union of Journalists voted last month 66-54 to condemn Israel’s invasion of Lebanon and to boycott its products.

From the union’s 51-page list of resolutions passed at its 2007 Annual Delegates’ Meeting: “This ADM condemns the slaughter of civilians by Israeli troops in Gaza and the (Israeli Defense Force’s) continued attacks inside Lebanon following the defeat of its army by Hezbollah.”

Objectivity in journalism is a delicate balancing act, at least as practiced in most Western democracies that subscribe to a citizen’s right to freedom of speech.

In the United States, journalists struggle with the implications of that balancing act pretty much every day. What’s the right word for this story? “Terrorist?” Or is it “insurgent”? What’s a proper tone for this report on the Supreme Court’s latest abortion-related decision? And so on, ad infinitum. In an instant-analysis Internet age in which all things have become political, every published word in every American journal is scoured for its prejudices.

In Britain . . . well, it’s different. Our compatriots across the pond can be considerably less scrupulous about avoiding political activism. And the union’s pretense-exploding hissy fit against Israel is an example.

It is far from the only example, though. The agenda of Britain’s largest association of journalists is larded with explicitly leftist causes. Many of them are fashionable and trendy, like cooing over the U.S.-baiting of Venezuela’s dictator-president Hugo Chavez.

So it should surprise no one that such an organization would decry the Middle East’s sole functioning democracy, with nary a word of condemnation for the Hezbollah terrorists whose kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers sparked the Lebanon war in the first place.


It is a myth that equality exists, we still live in a world where the rich dominate and the poor suffer.

April 30, 2007

Every year “May Day” brings more painful memories of workers world-wide. Workers are injured, died, sacked, insulted and beaten in almost every corner of the world. According to the British campaigning journalist John Pilger, the suffering of one set of people rarely gets any coverage in the populous media. This is coined ‘slow news’. It is a know fact that business tycoons who own multinational companies and large business units have close links or partnerships with political clergies and military elite’s of the countries. From Europe to Latin America, and to Asia sufferings are mounting each passing day.The Rich is becoming richer; sadly the poor worker is battling for the basic needs of life. 

An increase of 260% of 1000 richest people in Britain has been recorded in last decade, a Sunday Times report revealed. This trend is reflected else where in the world where few people control whole resources. The rich class has common interests in acquiring businesses, manufacturing units and other trading means; they buy in pennies and sell in pounds. Leading Western brands in the garments, sports, leisure, and other fields have production units in far away places in
Asia where they pay labour workers in pennies. Sadly this well known fact is still going on and will continue to for years to come, as no body cares that the companies are earning billions of pounds and dollars.
 
Fair Trade is new phrase invented by the competing brands; their slogan is “a better deal for the third world producers.” Supermarkets that buy a variety of food produce at cutting prices from Africa, Asia and
Latin America sells to public at multiplying prices.
 The business organisations are portraying themselves as champion of donors to the third world. These multinational companies are involved in humiliation of the workers.  

In third world countries the poor have no choice, but to sell their crafts to the rich, who earns profits 100 times by selling the remarkable pieces of embroidery, handicrafts, and decorations in the exhibitions.    In 1998-9 the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mian Nawaz Sharif, established grievances cell under Chairmanship of Zhaid Anwer Wahla a retired bureaucrat, who worked closely with communication minister Mushahid Hussain, to address the complaints of oppressed people in the country. This cell worked for approximately one year and resolved thousands of cases of various types that concerned the general public. A dispute aroused between minister and the chairman on use of power, which left the workers unpaid for their services that continued for one year.  Later in October 1999,  in a military coup the staffers were sent home for portraying their appearance in the office which was claimed to be illegal. M. A. Hashami, a volunteer aid worker, appointed director of the cell is still fighting for the salaries of underprivileged staffers, many of them have suffered worst conditions after been fired from job by their own military.  

Mushahid Hussain joined the military government and is currently a successful politician living lavishly. Zahid Anwer Wahla is in the queue to be a part of the new government. While the remaining ‘fat cats’ of the grievances cell made good deals during their stay. The effected staffers remain living in hope that somewhere some one could be a saviour for these oppressed helpless people. Such slow news stories exist in every part of the world, but this news is not addressed for the poor, it is for the rich to thrive off. The parents of these children wait for years, praying for the day their children will get a good enough job to be able to afford to buy them food.  In the third world countries harassment, unpaid working hours and personal abuses are common practices. Among the most badly treated are house servants who face sexual abuse and insulting behaviours. These are slaves whose voices are never heard. We might think so as the world marks the 200th anniversary of the slave trade, but in the year 2007 there still more than 12 million slaves living in conditions of terror, pain and cruelty inflicted by their fellow humans and shockingly between a quarter to half of these statistics are children.  Aidan McQuade delivered this terrifying and thought provoking statistics in an interview with Lions magazine in May 2007.    The abuse of work experience, vividly exposed by the National Union of Journalist’s recent survey, shows how the hopes of young graduates are being sabotaged. Those who completed work experience; 82 percent received no payment for their work. Health and safety measures are never been practices in the third world, where labourers wages are fixed by the employer, millions of people are living under the poverty line are victims of exploitation. The rises in commodities hardly ever match their wages. This is demonstrated by the small girls who sow day in day out without wearing a thimble, therefore prick and harm their fingers. This work is then purchased by the rich women who sell them at extortionate prices in five star hotels, separating the margins between the rich and poor even more.  


quick reports of Sunday’s ethical highlights

April 18, 2007

Motion 166 was a sustainability statement, asking the NEC to carry out an environmental audit of NUJ working practises and sustainable transport should be encouraged. It was hotly debated and Pete Murray from Scotland said that it might stop NUJ members from the Shetland Islands to get to the branch meetings if they could not take the plane as it would take several days to go by ferry. So there was a discussion about re-imbursement of air- and trainfares and if that motion could change this general rule. It was then followed by a receycling argument and if the paper at the conference would be appropriately and sustainably disposed of. Other members asked to remit the motion, but it was carried at the end.

Motion 170 draw out some New Labour sympathisers asking for Jack Straw not to be called a rascist. The delegate from the South Yorkshire branch replied that he would call his policy rascist, but not Jack Straw himself.

The affiliation to StW was also discussed at some time, with one NEC member stating that we would already we doing it, and would not need to call for official affiliation. Pete Jenkins said this would be a rare occurance in that he agreed with the NEC. Someone else expressed worries that if the motion would not get through it could stop Jeremy Dear speaking at the StW rallies if the ballot would be negative. The whole discussion also featured a bit of “how political is our union” debate.

This was continued during the Trident Nuclear Weapons debate. One person stated that the defeated affiliation proposal to CND would incline that the NUJ membership would not want to oppose the replacement of Trident, but it was rightly replied that these were different issues and that many members did not want to affiliate to CND out of other reasons, and not because they would support a Trident replacement.
Anyways, there were some odd rhetorical dance moves practiced at this ADM.

Jeremy Dear closed the ADM stating 163 delegates from 57 branches were present, 65 council members and 303 people in total.


Saturday morning: What a Gem- tour, Part 2

April 18, 2007

The next stop was a visit at the contemporary jeweller shop of Lucy Ann’s. She combines handmade lace textiles with jewellery making, using a combination of metallic and silk threads, fine wires and tiny inserts of coloured silk fabrics and specialises in Bridal wear, decorated with tiny seed beads abd swarovski crystals.

By that time we were a little bit tired and so we stopped for a quick coffee before moving on to the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter. Originally it was the Smith & Peppers wholesale jewellery manufacturing company, which was founded in 1899 by Charles Smith and Edwin Pepper. Birmingham had and has still the largest and biggest Assay Office in the world, we were told by our tour guide Sarah. 4000 people are still said to work in the jewellery quarter, although in the past it was about 60 – 70 000 people. An apprenticeship lasted 7 years then.
On avwerage, Jewellers earned more 20 years ago than now, she explained. But still 70 % of the UK’s jewellery is produced here.

In 1981 the family members running Smith& Peppers retired, they had no heirs and none of the other relatives wanted to take over the business. Nobody wanted to buy the business either, so they just closed it one day and left everything as it was, in the hope there would be a possibility to continue production later when the recession was overcome.
In 1990 the Birmingham Council bought the premises to restore it as a museum.
Smith and Peppers sold their products via a wholesale catalogue and specialised in “bamboo bangles”. In the WW2 they continued to make jewellery in the afternoon and air pressure parts for planes in the morning.

The symbol for Birmingham jewellery is the anchor, but it might not necessarily be on the jewellery, but the Smith & Pepper hallmark should be. The hallmark for Edinburgh is the castle, for London the Lion and Sheffield originally had a crown before it was changed to a rose. The symbols were decided by tossing a coin, so that’s why Birmingham got the anchor without being situated at the sea.

Smith and Pepper never made any ring as the market was saturated, but they specialised in bracelets, earrrings and brooches.
The design doesn’t look aged at all, as the 1914 design came back in fashion. The bangles are light and hollow, and Sarah demonstrated how they were made at the workbench. The factory originally was also a family home till 1961, after when they converted the buildings. The white tiles on the outside of the building were used to reflect the light into the work space.

Our group was able to try out some of the tools and after a demonstration of the more heavy equipment we were able to eat our free sandwiches in the neighbouring cafe.
Walking back to the NUJ conference, leaving the rest of the group to further explore Mathew Boulton’s Soho House, home of the Lunar Society, St Pauls Square and the Royal Birmingham Society of Arts in the afternoon.


The “Digital Convergence: How should we respond?” meeting

April 18, 2007

Len Mulholland talked about internet experiences at The Guardian, introducing the word bitcasting into my vocabulary, but still without meaning. Maybe its something to do with bit-torrent? Anyways, she mentioned four main problems with a digital convergence (funnily we always used the word to describe a meeting in a chat room, whereby here it just seems to mean multimedia & use of various formats) of newspapers: an increasing superficiality when reporting on the web compared with newspaper reports, a drop in professionalism, a high increase in workload and/or hours and a focus on short-term contracts as the web strategy of many media companies is plucked out of thin air and made up on the fly as they go along.

Paula Dear, from BBC News Online, states that many of the staff on the web site would also be on flexible contracts. The BBC Interactive Service is currently employing about 400 staff, including digital fax and ceefax, as well as audio-visual on the web. The BBC website got about 33.6 million page views on Wednesday, and it is estimated that 4-5 million unique readers are amongst these stats.

Each day the statistics are published and the newsroom is run on a 24/7 basis. The rota is one of the main hotpots and a wide consultation about the “rota problem” took place. There was something mentioned like 40 hrs a week over 4 days? – can this be correct?
Anyways, the rota was the cause for the biggest number of complaints.
She mentioned an unpredictability allowance they want to defend and that the pay level at the BBC would be quite good compared to what and how other media companies deal with their staff.
There is a growing tendency to integrate the interactive service with TV and radio collegues, she said.

I recorded the speech of Dr Andy Williams from Cardiff University, who is the author of a study about the impact of Video Journalism at the Western Mail and Echo. Unfortunately my batteries went, and the hotel staff have thrown away my expensive Sony accu and the rechargeable batteries so I had to abort my audio recording mission in the middle of it and tried to use the oldfashioned scribble method
instead.

Adam Christie from the National Executive Council gave an overview of implications for freelancers. He refered to the recent Johnston Press dispute over pictures from freelancers and the use of their pictures not only in print but also on the web. He said that freelancers were experiencing big cuts with the web. Photographers were asked to do video content, although they weren’t trained, and freelancers were used, but not trained to administer web content management systems. He also refered to the authors rights in copyright and licenses and gave the BBC’s user contribution as an example. He stated that the Health and Safety reps have actually legal powers to enforce adequate training and that the HSE would have quite good guidelines, which could be found in the entertainment category.

Finally Jeremy Dear closed off the meeting with a quick summary and reminded everybody that a one day conference on the same topic would take place on Saturday, 5th of May from noon till 4.30pm at NUJ headquarters. The topic is called “Educate, Agitate, Integrate”, places are strictly limited. If you would like to attend, please email campaigns@nuj.org.uk to book your place. At least that’s what it says on the leaflet. It also advertises contributions from NUJ members at The Guardian & Guardian Unlimited, BBC News, Johnston Press, Trinity Mirror, Telegraph Media and many more…


Exit stage left (theatrically, not politically speaking)

April 17, 2007

Got home at 5pm Sunday but was in bed and asleep soon after 9pm.Maybe my ADM is a-typical but it seemed to run at a fair pace, hence the Grand National steeplechase script to end the cabaret (printed at the end).

I arrived on Wednesday but shot off to meet Paul who was running this blog for the New Media Industrial Council. As chair of ProfCom (the NUJ’s Professional Training Committee) I was involved in introducing the students to Paul.

After a shower and getting changed I met with Caroline Holmes, the excellent trade union trainer to finalise the course content for the student conference. We have worked together before but never as efficiently. We drafted a really useful model agreement between us that student chapels will be able to use to negotiate over how independent student media is from the local student union and how disagreements can be resolved. Was finally free from responsibility about 7.30pm.

Thursday was the student conference all day and I was in the chair for all of it. These are bright buttons who keep you on your toes – I had to trawl rule books and speak to past motions proposers to answer their questions about why student membership excluded certain rights.Friday to Sunday I was a delegate from London Magazine Branch. I proposed three or four of our motions and spoke on a couple of others – with varying degrees of success but more successfully than in many years, when I am often the kiss of death to otherwise supportable motions.

But I was also chief scrutineer. This meant organising the nine other scrutineers to count any close votes, but it also meant counting all the ballots – and the sign of a strong and confident unions is that so many more than usual were heavily contested so needed counting.On top of that the traditional Saturday night cabaret fell to me.

Both the chief scrute job and cabaret compere role fell to me just becoming an FoC – the person doing it for years realises somebody else is now experienced enough to take over, so disappears off the scenes sharpish. The result was that Saturday evening, after conference closed at 6.30 we counted the votes until nearly 8pm (one recounted three times due to the one vote difference between elected and not elected. Then I finalised the cabaret and running order. I’d managed to write two scripts but planned actors got nervous about offending the president and pulled out at the last minute and I suddenly found out about an extra script I had no prior knowledge of.

Still we get away with it. And only after that and the raffle (oh yes I chair NUJ Extra so I have to host the raffle too) do I get to relax. It was four in the morning when I finally decided to hit the sack.

Sunday, I walked in to the conference hall just after 9 to discover the branch delegate who was supposed to be proposing out motion on the NCTJ was sleeping off her even more excessive night. I bundled up and waved my finger about, regurgitated an old anarchist joke about hierarchy being like shelves – the higher up the less use – and won over the tiny number of delegates there at that time.

I had come by motorbike so I had the joys of the M1 home. Mind you, my bike had stood outside the hotel for four days and was filthy – it never gets that dirty in London. Birmingham must be one hell of a dirty city.

It all seemed like a mad rush. Perhaps ADM will need to go back to being longer if the order papers continue to be like this? 

That final script in full: 

And they’re off.

The president has opened the centenary NUJ ADM. The first hurdle is a speech from the Lord Mayor of Birmingham and already a few delegates have fallen – asleep. SOC jockey Pauline Norris has launched order paper one and they’re over the SOC rules and onto the first speeches. The president is the front runner but coming up on the inside is general secretary Jeremy Dear and then the fate of motions annual report section causes problems. And they are over motion one, motion two, motion three – wait there has been a refusal to pay £3.45 for a pint of beer.

And it’s over to John Lister for order paper two. With a 45 minute lead, delegates rattled through the motions and The Equality order paper, with its Irish Trainer Pat Healy, moved up from its usual position on the back straight of conference to lead by a head. And delegates galloped through the fences.

The pace slowed through the international section as a rider from Columbia strayed on to the track but then speeded up when Tony Benn took the lead. Late entry, copyright, ridden by the heaviest rookie Jockey ever to wear the SOC colours, Rory MacLoud, moved up from fifteenth position to sixth. And order paper six, which nobody expected to be in the race, moved the front to take us through to the second lap.

And with all the runners and riders still in the running Finance, whipped by former jockey Charles Harkness, saw the finance department cash in its winnings with a super Euro subs hike. Owner Anita Halpin, used to winning large sums, was smiling in the winners’ enclosure. But then the going got soft with order paper eight Organisation One failing to finish when Clerk of the course Jeremy Dear, announced a late entry of John MacDonnell MP. There were a number of fallers. Snappers Organiser fell, health and safety organiser fell, and the course was briefly evacuated on the instructions of The Don, over a slice of burnt toast in the hospitality suite.

A welcomed extra runner on Alan Johnston was cheered by the crowd. Then Order paper nine, handicapped by six composites and seven late notice motions, slowed the pace, before order paper ten fell just short of the finishing line.

Finally, on order paper 11, race-goers saw an unprecedented event in the history of the NUJ – SOC allowed a motion that had been ruled out of order to remain on the order paper. At that point this commentator fell off his chair.


Visit the NUJ ADM photo website

April 16, 2007

Throughout this year’s ADM student attendees have been taking pictures and posting them to a Flickr webpage – this will be added to in the following days.

Go to http://www.flickr.com/photos/nuj100/ to see more (there’s also a live stream of new additions on the right hand column of this blog)