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.


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


Ethics roundup

April 15, 2007

This morning the delegates discussed their motions on Ethics. The first motion passed concerned the perceived rise in Islamophobia that is current in the British press.

It was decided to instruct the National Executive Council to step up its anti-racist campaigns, and to circulate guidlines toward gaining conscience clauses in house agreements.

These ideas were reflected in the passing of several other similar motions, all of them being passed unanimously.

Code of Conduct

The Conference then went on to consider the N.U.J’s. draft Code of Conduct. This involves simplifying, clarifying and not expanding the document.

A long discussion was held on Clause 8 which deals with the relevant reporting of a person’s age, gender and ethnicity. The code was first written in 1936 and revised in the 1970’s.

A further motion was considered which asked journalists and photographers to refrain from doing each other’s work.

The penultimate motion instructed the N.E.C. to develop a campaign pack and relevant publicity which would promote the Union’s ethical approach to Public Relations as they apply to the members who work in  the N.H.S.
The last motion concerned reporting of HIV/AIDS and the ethics which are used by some journalists.


Work experience rights motion passed

April 15, 2007

A motion at the NUJ centenary ADM to improve rights for those on work experience placements has been passed unanimously.

The motion requests the NUJ to urge media organizations to stop exploitation of new graduates across the UK.

Earlier the union’s general secretary Jeremy Dear, in an address to student members at the conference, assured the participants that the union will take a strong stand on the issue of work placement.

Jeremy said that the National Union of Journalists is the first organization to work with journalism students to produce best practice guidelines for the treatments of those on work experience.

Jeremy also informed students about the recent survey conducted by the NUJ that shows alarming exploitation of students on work placements.

According to the survey more than 80% of the students on placements had their work published or broadcast during their work experience placements. Of these, 82% of the students did not get receive any payments for their work.

The NUJ has published work experience guidelines to inform students about their rights as a number taking courses in journalism are foreign students as well.

HR Revenues & Customs insists that work experience placements undertaken by non-students are covered by minimum wage regulation.


Books @ NUJ Centenary

April 14, 2007

The NUJ centenary brings three important books about journalism. The launch of “Journalists: 100 years of the NUJ” by Tim Gopsill and Greg Neale, and “A Century of the Black Journalism in Britain 1893-2003” by Lionel Morrison are landmark additions in journalism books, while Tony Harcup’s book “Ethical Journalist” is worthwhile for journalism students.

In 2004, the National Union of Journalists decided to produce a new history of the union to mark its centenary in March 2007. The authors have done marvelously well in finding and compiling the facts.

Tim Gopsill, Editor of The Journalist magazine for the last 17 years, has had a good response from the members to the book.

Tim told the NUJ Student Blog that some people have pointed out various omissions, or that “there are not enough stories about Scotland and Parish Branch”.

He referred to such comments as compliments and said it means that people have valued his book.

However, the addition of missing things to any future edition is the publisher’s decision.

Tim Gopsill looks confident to sell 300 copies during the conference, from a total of 4,250 copies at a discounted price of £10.

Century of black journalism

Another important book is Lionel Morrison’s “A Century of Black Journalism in Britain 1893-2003”.

Lionel Morrison OBE has been a campaigning journalist and media trainer for fifty years.

He remains involved in Black Members Council which he was a founder member.

The book shows how long black journalists and the black press have been a feature of the landscape of British journalism.

Lionel includes a useful timeline to give quick access to the information.

The book tells of the persistent struggle against widespread prejudice, racism and discrimination mirrored by the stereotyping and rejection in the media.

The Ethical Journalist

The third book, “The Ethical Journalist”, is written by Sheffield University teacher Tony Harcup, who as secretary of Leeds Chapel was responsible for my own presence at the NUJ ADM as a student observer.

The starting point of this engaging and innovative book is that ethical journalism is good journalism. The book also discusses journalists’ personal anecdotes alongside relevant critical studies.


Heroes, breakfast and OFCOM

April 13, 2007

What’s the one thing that most people would rather avoid at 7:00am after not enough sleep. After convening with colleagues I can safely says it’s the prospect of having a camera thrust into your face with a relative minor hero to your right. That’s the start that I received after attending the Birmingham at the forefront of the digital media age breakfast hosted by The Birmingham Post this morning.

When I arrived, which was slightly earlier than published admittedly, I was confronted with not only Mark Reeves, Editor of The Birmingham Post but also personal hero Adrian Goldberg. Many a time at uni, which is based in the midlands, I have been submitted to his dulcet tones and political views on the Politics show and has become somewhat of a hero in house filled with male trainee journalists.

I was awe struck but what shocked me more was about to follow, Phillip Graff from OFCOM spoke about the intriguing subject of a news PSP. No not another high-tech version of the popular computer games machine but an idea to start a new Public Service Publisher.

This was news to me. But Mr Graff, calmly and collectively talked us all through it, simplistic enough for student boy here to understand but complex to keep even the most versed on the edge of their seat. Content will be spread over multi-platform, which will give the opportunity to have a product that can be ‘made, mixed and mashed’ as Graff quotes.

All this comes at a price though and the estimated 50-100 million seemed to some to be way short of the mark. If you want to have a quality product then you need to invest in the idea to which Graff retorted ‘’This is a new organisation and everything is up for debate’.

With the digital switchover-taking place in 2008, new ideas and opinions are constantly being voiced on the future of media consumption and if anyone else wants to add then OFCOM are more than welcome to hear and discuss all matters.

So an informative talk, debate and I got the chance to meet a hero, that’s what the ADM must surely be about to students.

More information is available from http://www.ofcom.org.uk/media/news/2007/01/nr_20070124a