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.

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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


NUJ demands justice over Terry Lloyd killing

April 14, 2007

Journalists today voted to demand a follow-up to the investigation into the unlawful killing of journalist Terry Lloyd in Iraq four years ago.

Lloyd, an ITN correspondent, was hit by American fire as he approached the city of Basra not long after the US and British invasion in 2003.

An inquiry last October revealed that the act was an ‘unlawful killing’, although no charges were made.

The US have so far refused to undertake any criminal investigation or bring the perpetrators in front of a court of law, despite ITN’s recent announcement of the sixteen marines present at the scene.

Demands were made today for accountability for the killing. Journalist Diana Peasey said that answers were needed and the issue should be taken to the Pentagon. “There is still a lot to be known and discovered about this,” she claimed.

Jeremy Dear, General Secretary of the NUJ, said that cases like that of Terry Lloyd indicated the need for investigations into the killing of journalists across the world. This has to happen until ‘justice not power games’ becomes the norm, he added.

This debate was yet another reminder of the dangers facing journalists in the current political climate, particularly in the wake of the disappearance of BBC Correspondent Alan Johnston in Gaza just over four weeks ago.


Call for all journalists to demand freedom for BBC Journalist Alan Johnston

April 14, 2007

Ian Power, in Birmingham.

Delegates at the National Union of Journalists ADM were asked to support the quest for the release of captured BBC journalist Alan Johnston. Alan was kidnapped by Palestinian rebels 33 days ago in Gaza while reporting on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict for the BBC.

Speaking during a special motion, President of the International Federation of Journalists Aidan White told delegates that “during this moment of crisis we must mobilise support from journalists around the world to ensure Alan’s safe return”.

Also addressing the conference on Alan’s plight was BBC World News Editor, John Williams. Mr Williams told delegates that the freedom to report had “never been under greater threat than today”. He commended Alan for “having shown real courage over the last three years reporting in Gaza” and said he had no doubt he has shown that courage over the past four weeks.

However Mr Williams detailed his concern at the physical and mental toll Alan’s incarceration must be having on him. “Journalism does matter, and it’s thanks to people like Alan Johnston that it will continue to do so” he concluded.


Sign the Alan Johnston petition

April 14, 2007

The BBC have an online petition to free Alan Johnston. It states:

“We, the undersigned, demand the immediate release of BBC Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston. We ask that everyone with influence on this situation increase their efforts to ensure that Alan is freed quickly and unharmed.”

Sign it here.


NUJ to target hate website

April 14, 2007

The NUJ will renew its efforts to have fascist website “Redwatch’ closed down after delegates voted in favour of a motion to investigate the possibility of legal action.

Over the years many journalists have been targeted by Redwatch, threatened, and verbally or physically attacked. Redwatch, which was described by motion proposers as “a racist organization”, has been active since the 1970’s against journalists and trade unionists who are committed against racism.

Peter Lazenby, Leeds Branch Chair, told the NUJ student blog that Redwatch extremists have declared all journalists who oppose racism as their enemy.

Yorkshire Evening Post Staff Reporter Peter Lazenby is among the targets of Redwatch. The extremists at Redwatch have named Yorkshire Evening Post’s newsroom as a ” hotbed of Marxism agitation”.

Redwatch people recently attacked campaigning journalist Peter Lazenby in court.

Teaching unions first became aware of the website, which is based in the United States, in the 1970’ s when Redwatch produced leaflets urging people to attack journalists like Peter Lazenby.

Today, the Internet has given them a sophisticated and effective way to spread their message. The website has published photos, addresses, telephone and car registration numbers of those who raise racist and fascist issues.

Peter Lazenby praised the NUJ role to campaign for the closure of Redwatch. “Journalism is a unique profession with unique responsibilities to tell the truth that people in power would not like to tell. This puts journalists in danger, but they should not stop.”


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