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.


Quick summary

April 16, 2007

Huh! It’s already Sunday and I haven’t been able to blog as much as I would have liked. First there is so much going on at the same time, and then, it’s true what general secretary Jeremy Dear said at the new media meeting: It’s actually not possible to do three things at the same time, even if you want to.

At least not if you want to sleep occasionally.

So, I have focused on pictures this ADM, as there were many other blog reports from fellow student delegates.

So watch this space, as there will be some late additions to the blog over the next days, such as the edited audio recordings of some fringe meetings and some more in depth reports of the last days.

There are still some audio recordings in the brew, such as of the Latin America fringe events, the Media Workers against the War, and a few of the speeches at the new media event till the batteries died.

The dates for the next ADM have just been publicised on the big screen in the hall.

The ADM deadlines for 2008 are:

Closing date to motions: 26th of November 2007
Closing date for confirmations, amendments and delegate nominations:
1st of February 2008
Registration closing date: 14th of March 2008
Next ADM: 3rd-6th April 2008, Europa Hotel, Belfast


Ulla’s roundup: Friday-Saturday

April 16, 2007

On Friday morning, the ADM started. In the main hall we have got 2×13 rows with a path in the middle and 13 seats on each sides. Seating is arranged via branches- on the podium the chair with about four or five people from the National Executive Council.

Two desks on each sides with microphones – the left one is generally used to propose and agree with motions, the right one to oppose.

Speakers queue up for the desks waiting for their turn to speak. Most of the motions are in a green DinA4 booklet and the whole conference centers around going through these proposals and making decisions if to implement the suggestions.

On Friday afternoon, the topics planned are Equality, International and Media Freedom. Equality motions are mainly put in by the Black Members Council, the Disabled Members Council and the Equality Council and strives to eliminate discrimination and disadvantages in the workplace.

One important positive decision was made for section 30, which will in future grant more support to journalists seeking asylum in Britain. The intervention to link this motion to the new Exiled Journalist Network group failed, “because you didn’t come to the horse-trading session yesterday, and at such late stage this addition can’t really be brought up now”.

International

The International section is introduced by the president of the US American journalist union Linda Fowley. She stresses the happy anticipation of 20th January 2009, which is Bush’s last day in office. Also she is here to congratulate for the centenary, also in the name of the parent union, the Communications Workers Union America. She refers to the kidnapping of Alan Johnston and Daniel Pearl. “It has all too often been our own governments who target journalists”, she says before pointing out the lack of accountability regarding the killing of Terry Lloyd.

I think it was still her who stressed the need to fight for our rights and not to forget that the rights which are current, have been fought for over centuries. She states: “We have to fight for the freedom of the press” and refers to the “Stand up for Journalism” Day in autumn. She refers that we also would have to fight against the media conglomerate ownership, such as outsourcing in Reuters and Newsquest, the digital divide and the Speed-Net, and for basic trade union rights for people.

In this section delegates discuss solidarity statements which condem the killings of journalists in hotspots such as Ethiopia, imprisonment in Guatanamo Bay, oppression of trade union members in Zimbabwe, repression of freedom of expression in Turkey, exploitation of journalists in Pakistan and similar.

Not quite sure how much practical difference these motions make, but it is always good to have somebody thinking of you and trying to make a difference when finding yourself in a crap position.

Slightly more controversial is Section 35 about the Yahoo! Connection which enabled the jailing and repression of a Chinese blogger.

Jemima Kiss from the New Media Council, asks the ADM to support the motion of an official Yahoo! Boycott “moved by” (sounds like a chess game) the Manchester branch.

Lots of speakers queue up to express their opinion, one official says that there were talks the since the original motion made last year, a reenforcement of the boycott would be harmful as they would not acknowledge efforts made by both sides.

Somebody else states that there would be lots more multinational internet baddies around and mentions google and g-mail as examples of an unclear privacy policy and uncertainty of what they do with the supplied user information.

There is a call to defeat the motion due to the lack of alternatives to Yahoo! Services and the practical implementation problems, another delegate asks how the union would support the members who would need Yahoo! Services for their job.

The next statement is controversially debated as it suggests the boycott of Israeli goods as a means to show solidarity with Palestine.

Some delegates have actually been instructed by their groups at home to vote against this boycott, others want the union to “step aside from international politics a little bit”, some people associate the proposal with feelings of antisemitism and anti-Israel. The vote is divided – nearly 50/50, when the votes are counted out 66 are for and 54 against a union supported boycott of Israeli goods.

Tony Benn

Tony Benn suddenly turns up as a surprise speaker, and is greeted enthusiastically and empathetically by the delegates and the general secretary. He joined Nuj in 1949 when working in the BBC, but they didn’t recognize the NUJ then, as they had their own little union then. His father was also a journalist, he said, and also joked that he would be proud to be a honorary member as he doesn’t need to pay a fee. He was then talking a little bit about why we would need a union, the change in technology, the lack of union recognition and the demand for training.

The use of new technology was always said to be a means of getting rid of people, like in Wapping, he explained, and pointed out the division alongside class, nationality, and similar.

Tony Benn stressed the need of people wanting to feel that some one appreciates them and that empowerment is most important.

He states that: “The government wants to know everything about us, but doesn’t want us to know anything about them” and then lays into the potential restrictions of the Freedom of information Act and the proposed ID card scheme.

“To discover that we are all people is one of the most important things”, he continued rebel-rousing.
Tony Benn finished off with talking a little bit about the danger of nuclear weapons.

There was not much controversy about the next motions, but they featured a bit of a rant against the privacy bill.

Section 55 debated a different process for affiliation of the NUJ to campaigns and other groups. If it would be accepted, the process would change from the balloting and references for checks and safeguards to branches being able to make affiliations of the union to campaigns autonomously.

“This could be open to all kind to abuse as sometimes only few people are at branch meetings”, was one argument versus the ability to trust the decision making process at grassroots level in branches.
Unfortunately, the fear of abuse seemed to prevail as the motion was defeated.

In the evening the 100 years of NUJ history book is launched. The access to the event is strictly limited by tickets, but for a change i am happy to have lost out as I don’t feel that well and have had a headache big enough for a herd of elephants for the whole day.


Politicisation of the union?

April 15, 2007

There is no such thing as real objectivity, and journalists are usually the first to point this out. But does this mean the NUJ should sacrifice its neutrality and become more of a political force? Startlingly this seems to be the case. 

I was more than surprised to find a majority vote in favour of a boycott of Israeli goods, based on judgements such as the country’s conflict in Palestinian territories and with Lebanon. With a result of 66 to 54, as well as some turbulent debate, the motion did not pass smoothly – but so it should not. There is no need for such a loud political move to be taken up when the reality is that it will do little good for the union – and possibly a lot of bad.

One thing’s for sure: it is not going to make life any easier for journalists anywhere in the world.  In the current international climate, where journalists’ lives are often at threat despite their own views or neutrality, it is absolutely fundamental that the union does nothing to worsen the situation. We need to strive to maintain our objectivity when reporting and although we have a personal right to express our own views, this does not extend to the union doing the same. We are working together to protect journalists – not to endanger them.

There is another problem with this specific case. As one member mentioned, the union will ineluctably be seen by some as anti-Semitic because of this particular stance against Israel which, despite being a ridiculous misconception, is also one that needs to be taken into account. Not least because such individuals can quite rightly ask, ‘why target Israel? Why not persecute other states with bad records internationally?’ And the union has no answer.

Because, all across the world, from Vietnam to Colombia, men and women are suffering injustices. So now we have called for sanctions against Israel, what next? Do we boycott Chinese goods because of its lack of freedom of press? Do we call for sanctions on the US government because of human rights abuses in Guantanamo Bay? There are too many abuses of freedom and rights and no lack of causes out there which the NUJ could stand up and shout about. And I’m not suggesting we should ignore or forget about them. But if we become too far intertwined with such politics then we compromise our principles. It is not the union’s place to be another player on the global political chessboard; if we continue to politicise we endanger the union and our own lives.

The anti-Semitic claim has no grounding and is thus vacuous in my opinion, because the issue here revolves around unjust killing, regardless of religion or any other discriminatory variable. But the problem is that Israel’s ‘slaughter’ is not one-sided; there are a number of factions in Palestinian territorities and across the middle-east – and indeed the world – that commit such crimes. And to make such a stand against Israel at the same time as supporting links with the West Bank and Gaza, invariably suggests that we only act selectively against unlawful killing. 

I understand there are times when action needs to be taken. I am glad that the NUJ campaigned feverishly against apartheid in South Africa as it is difficult to stand back and watch such atrocities being carried out by the government against its own people and not act. But this just indicates how difficult it is to know whether or not to speak out – a quandary that humanitarian agencies have particularly had to struggle with to no apparent avail.

Being political as a union, regardless of whether it’s with a big or a small “P”, is perhaps inevitable. The way some members proudly say that we are not affiliated to the Labour party wears thin when the union refuses to be neutral internationally. And evidently if we focus and vote on every issue of this sort that rears its head then we get to the point where we are deeply embroiled in a web of political concerns. The danger therefore is that further politicisation may well have worrying implications: it could not only weaken and fragment the union both internally and externally and threaten the power of the union’s voice, but also detract it from its original purpose of representing and protecting its men and women on the ground.

Olivia Lang, Nottingham branch member


Campaigning organisations

April 15, 2007

A number of campaigning organizations have made their presence at the NUJ centenary conference. Among them were trade union councils, the Stop the War Coalition, Palestine Solidarity campaign, UN Refugee Agency, Cuba Solidarity Campaign, War on Want, Search Light 2007 Campaign and Thompsons Solicitors.

The representatives looked very active during the three day centenary celebration at Holiday Inn Birmingham, the birthplace of the NUJ.

Stop the War Coalition organized talks to discuss issues including Islamophobia, the media and the “War on Terror”.

Stop the War brought leading  speakers including Michelle Stanistreet, Steve Usher from Express and Star, Andrew Murray (Chair, Stop the War Coalition), NEC member Pete Murray, and other important speakers during their talks.

Trade union councils, Cuba Solidarity Campaign, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Search Lights 2007 Campaign , Thompsons Solicitors, War on Want, and UNHCR Refugee Agency messages were taken well by the participants who contributed towards to the fund raising activities of these organizations.

The organizations distributed leaflets and informed participants about their upcoming events.

Palestine Solidarity Campaign announced that a National Demonstration and Rally in London will take place on 9th of June 2007.


More posts to come Monday

April 15, 2007

The conference training room is closing down, so we’ll be posting from the one student’s laptop for the rest of the day – more posts to come when the students get home tomorrow.


Finance roundup: subs go up, Dear quotes Trotsky

April 14, 2007

Members at the N.U.J. Annual Delegates Meeting in Birmingham voted on Saturday morning to raise the yearly subscriptions to the Union.

This will mean that members on Grade 1 will pay an extra £5.68, Grade 2 will pay an extra £7.00 and Grade 3 an extra £9.60. Speakers who supported the motion made mention of the recruiting power of a simple and fair subscription system.

The average wage increase for N.U.J. members is £2,000 per year. When asked to contribute to increased subscriptions, proposers of the motion said, most people say that they are saving for a mortgage or car or other expence. They seem to be unaware, until it is pointed out to them, that unions are responsible for negotiating their better pay and conditions.

General Secretary Jeremy Dear quoted Leon Trotsky, saying “Finances are the sinews of war”.

Other finance motions

A motion that sought to raise the minimum subscription that any individual would pay – to £75 – was defeated.

Conference also voted for a motion which instructed the National Executive Council to give effect to the principle that “…members in New Media departments of established media workplaces should normally pay subs at the same rate as their colleages”.

Delegates further carried a motion which means that students will now pay a subscription of £25 “…contribution to cover the the full duration of their course”, and “…receive a 25% discount on their first year’s full membership if they apply within 12 months of completing the course for which they were granted student membership”.

Speakers passionately refered to students as being the future of the Union movement. These references were generally greeted with enthusiastic applause.

Three other uncontoversial motions were passed without debate. Number 72 dealt with the ease with which it will now be possible for members to pay their subs by direct debit or credit card.

Number 74 instructed the N.E.C. to “…investigate the availability of libel/defamation insurance policies for freelance journalists in the Republic of Ireland”.

Finally, under this Finance Section, motion 75 asked the N.E.C. to provide “…a handbook or electronic guidance for branch treasurers on the effective control of branch finances”.

This proved to be a highly popular idea, as most Union activists are aware of how difficult it can be to elect a Treasurer in their branch. Any help that budding Treasurers can get will be gladly received.

The often controversial Finance Sector of the A.D.M. was was quite swiftly completed with little contentious debate.


The Irish Student Delegation experience

April 13, 2007

As a student in University College Cork, I have to admit I didn’t know much about the NUJ before attending the student conference yesterday – apart from the fact that they were a trade union who supported journalists in Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales. Unfortunately, there is not strong (or any, to be honest) NUJ representation in Cork, which myself and my fellow Cork student delegate Ian Power now hope to change.

I am a member of the Journalism Society and Committee in my university, holding the position of events coordinator, though really doing a bit of everything. The society is newly established, and we held the first ever journalism conference in UCC in November of last year.

Here comes the recruitment bit: for anyone who would be interested in attending our second conference (November 15th 2007) please, please, please get in contact with me so I can organise a ticket for you! I’ve met so many fantastic people since I arrived and everyone has been so interesting, it would fantastic if you wanted to attend.

Student bonding

All student delegates who had to travel from anywhere but London had a great chance to bond yesterday!

We arrived at 11am, the initial start time for the student conference, and were swiftly sent out to occupy ourselves while the poor Londoners were forced to negotiate the mess that was the rail system.

Being a girl, I quickly teamed up with a student delegate from Cornwall, Lucy, and hit the shops – like any professional journalist would do, I’m sure. 

After maxing out the credit cards we came back to more waiting, which was actually quite fun as more people had arrived. 

We finally began at 2pm and the organizers had a lot of interesting topics to discuss with us. The business of the day seemed to be  over quickly and so the drinking began.

Surprisingly it was a quiet night – in fact, I think our facilitators had a later night than we did!

But before you lose faith in the younger generation’s ability to relax, know that the plan for the rest of the weekend seems to include Oceana and copious amounts of drinking.

Solidarity

At the ADM this morning the President and the General Secretary spoke. As the president’s comments have already been discussed I’ll briefly go into what Jeremy said for anyone who missed it.

The secretary expressed his pride for the NUJ members who recently took strike action at the BBC, in a successful action against compulsory redundancy there.

He went on to describe further strike action, including the recent strike within the Daily and Sunday Telegraph against making Saturday a compulsory work day for their journalists.

Mr. Dear holds the position that NUJ members must show solidarity against cut backs in the future, as by working together journalists have a real ability to make a difference and can “once more become a force to be reckoned with”.


What I hope to get out of the ADM – or why I am here.

April 13, 2007

After I read the NUJ conference blog last year I wanted to participate at the NUJ conference blog.

Also, one motion of last year was highly discussed in our online community and I have been wanting to find out more about it, as well as the NUJ’s decisions and attitudes towards user generated content and citizen journalism.

I always appreciated the NUJ’s support for Indymedia, for example when the FBI took the harddisks away at Rackspace in 2004, or when the Indymedia Access Centre was attacked in Genoa or Indy folks got arrested or there were legal threats against the open publishing site or similar.

Of course there are many reasons to go to this ADM. One aspect is of course the slight holiday factor – meeting like-minded people, get to see and experience Birmingham, do a little bit of sightseeing, getting to stay in a hotel and have a little bit like a holiday with intelligent entertainment, as well as being able to meet up with friends living in and around Birmingham.

Also of course I want to learn from other people’s experience and about the practical difficulties in different types of journalism jobs and how they are handled.

It will be good to get to know and meet the union decision makers and people whom I might rely on in future and so build up a bit of trust for when I’ll run into difficulties.

I am also curious to find out how much practical relevancy, influence, effects and importance the decisons made at the annual meeting have.

There is also an opportunity to find out a bit more about union history and get to know other members of Edinburgh union apart from freelancers.

This event will also feature discussions if student branches are a good idea or not and what experiences are made in other universities and cities and branches.

Maybe it is also possible to get even more inspired for my dissertation topic about alternative media.

A job or work experience opportunity arising would be excellent, but unlikely.

And I am very keen on intelligent, socio-political discussion and debates to hear a variety of points of views and think about it and the world.

It will be good to meet people in person whom I have read about in The Journalist or got to discuss online.

Hopefully we’ll get to know the union’s politics a bit more in depth and catch new ideas and inspiration to put these in practice. It is also always fun to get to know the profession and it’s representatives.

Also I am particularly interested in New Media, user generated content and citizen journalism.

Additionally it is a good way to make some more contacts. Maybe it will be even possible to talk to someone famous such like John Pilger or so.

I will be fun to hear some more background info on some of the motions, and listen to the statements of the Annual Report and ADM agenda.

We might also be able to learn new skills.

And I want to find out why students can’t vote and what happens to unemployed journalists in the union.

It will be good to find out about voting procedures.
And finally the main point for attending is to satisfy my curiosity, my basic urge and need to feel informed and to know what’s going on.


report of Thursday events

April 13, 2007

Thursday,12th of April

picture of student conference
In the morning it’s the day of the student conference. But so far there is actually a lack of students. From what I hear, their train from London has given up somewhere undefined. So the start of the student congregation is delayed indefinitely so far, but it doesn’t really matter as there is so much else going on. It is actually impossible to keep track of it all, and I am getting pretty hyper and excited by now.

Upstairs in the main hall, registration takes place, and this year’s ADM bag is actually a practical green rucksack with a cool NUJ logo. I quite like it, though it is a little bit plastic (?), but it is certainly one of the free bags with a high re-useability factor. Inside is some tourist information, the agenda and announcement for fringe events.

Another stall in the hall is for reimbursement of expenses and for booking tourist like events, 2 of those include visiting the ITV central studios. One has a musical theme and the other one an art and culture one. Unfortunately there is too little time to be able to participate in everything.

The hall is also the main coffee and tea providing facility and socialising area. The lunch which is provided here is excellent. We have the choice between Mushroom and Chicken Stroganoff, traditional Italian Lasagne, some cheesy vegetable pasta, rice and potatoe wedges and maybe even some more which I could have forgotten. There is a salad bar as well including Tomatoe and Mozzarella mix, green leafed salad and some unusual chickpea based herbal veggie excitement. There is an incredible warm, soft, red and sweet rhubarb crumble with custard on offer and fruit salad. Fantastic. Whilst I am delighting myself with the culinary experiences we meet up with the rest of the Edinburgh Freelance Branch.
Thom excitedly tells me something about a motion of ours, which I completely forgot about because it actually has been quite a while ago that it was worded and put forward. He seems to be occupied with organising some standing orders, which so far I believed is a former bank turned pub in Edinburgh offering the cheapest beer prices on a Wednesday evening. All will become clear tomorrow when the intelligent discussions and debates kick off. I am looking forward to that.

Downstairs is a the internet access centre with about six little Macs set up. It works very well so far, very impressive. The exhibition is being set up and campainging stalls such like the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Workers Beer Company, the NUJ centenary history project, some refugee support group, a campaign against domestic abuse and Thompsons solicitors are presenting themselves and their activities.

At about 2pm, the student meeting starts. There are about eleven of us, with quite an international input: we have got French Ingrid, Hungarian Janos, Pakestani Ifar, me as German Ulla and – dunno if that counts – two Irish students.

Till about half past five, we mainly talk about establishing student chapels, work experience and student media. Jeremy Dear, the general secretary, drops by and tells us that students might soon have a representative on the NCTJ and explains that work experience whilst being on a course and work experience after finishing the education are differently legislated. Later one seem to fall under National Minimum Wage regulations. He talks a little bit about the astonishing results of the recent work experience survey the NUJ has conducted and points us to the NUJ website to view the list of experiences. He says that later on this module is intended to be interactive.

Chris Morley also talks to us in his function as the outgoing president of the union. The next suggested president is a woman, a fact of which he seems proud as it generally believed to be still a rare occurance. He stresses that he is a working journalist and not paid for the union work he does and is elected for only a year to chair the ADM and the NEC. He states that he took part in an ADM in 1986 for the first time as an activist.

Ifar luckily encourages us to take a picture of us all with the organisers of the student meeting. Pics as usual also on Flickr. You could try to spot the students and the NUJ staff in the picture it can be a bit misleading if attempting to differentiate who’s who by age.

Linda King presents the trade union courses and Paul Bradshaw the blog. At 6.30pm there is an introduction to all new delegates, but me and Ifar are heading off by then to the fringe event of the Media Workers against the War, which also means we miss the book launch about the Black Journalism History and the dinner with the mayor in the Birmingham Museum.

It is astonishing how tiring a meeting can be. Sitting around for about three hours doesn’t seem to be that strenious, but it somehow is. Especially as we all don’t really know each other yet that well. The suggestion about establishing student chapels is quite interesting. I haven’t really thought about it, but even in Edinburgh we have several universities and colleges which all seem to offer some kind of journalism related courses: Napier University, now Telford College, and what I did not know but Colin told me as he studies there: Queen Margaret University with broadcasting, film and tv. Then there is Edinburgh University of course with its weekly student newspaper and Fresh Air FM. So having some NUJ chapels there would also be quite beneficial to bring media students in Edinburgh together in general. Oh and there is Stevenson College and Jewel&Esk, but dunno if they offer any courses relevant to us. There is a little bit of a passionate enthusiastic discussion about the role of campaigning and actions in student chapels taking place. With the more careerist wing of the students wanting to leave it to either the NUS or the parent NUJ. This takes us to debate why students are not allowed to vote in ballots, such as the recent question about affiliation to the CND.

Hm, maybe this could even be a good thing because of the frightening depolitisation of students. Unfortunately most students are not anymore the radical idealistic troublemakers wanting to change the world but instead want to “progress in the industry”. Maybe I should add the word British in there? There still seems to be some student action for social justice in Greece going on though, and anti-tuiton fee activities in Germany and wasn’t there some student connections with the Parisian suburban rioters? 
But actually even in Germany there isn’t anymore that much of a revolutionary drive at the moment. Seems like since the collapse of real existing socialism and communism the attraction of any alternative more social justice system has wained, giving way to the neoliberal greedy way of life, impacting of course on students as well, and not only in the way of tuition fees but also idealistically.