The NUJ is urging MPs to back a "conscience clause" for jounalists so they can resist unethical demands by their editors without getting the sack.
Even more controversially, the union is also calling for papers to be fined if the Press Complaints Commission rules they are in breach of the Code of Practice.
The union has put both pleas in a submission to the Commons' Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, which is carrying out an inquiry into Press Standards, Privacy and Libel.
The submission to the committee says a “conscience clause” would “allow reporters who feel they are being pressured to produce material that is not supported by evidence, or whose reporting is being stretched beyond credulity in its presentation, to refuse that assignment.
“We believe that journalists are responsible for their work and are therefore entitled legally to refuse instructions they consider unethical,” the union says.
The clause would protect journalists by giving them a case for unfair dismissal if they were sacked for refusing instructions. On fining papers, the NUJ says: “the fine would send out a message that the PCC has teeth and would be prepared to bite.”
The NUJ has always felt cold shouldered by the PCC. It had a seat on the PCC's predecessor, the Press Council. Although it resigned the seat in protest it rejoined the Press Council just in time for it to be abolished and replaced by the PCC.
The Code of Practice is drawn up by the Editors' Code Committe and underpins the work of the PCC.
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