NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet today confirmed to the Leveson Inquiry that private investigator Derek Webb, who claims that News International had asked him to put solicitors working for phone hacking victims under surveillance, is a member of the union.
The NUJ had previously claimed it could not comment on whether or not Webb was in the union because membership matters are covered by data protection legislation.
But Stanistreet told the Leveson Inquiry today that Webb alleges that he was told by a senior executive at News International that he must switch from being a private investigator to become a journalist.
"He was told to join the NUJ and this he duly did," Stanistreet said. She added: "This is a breathtakingly cynical move on behalf of the News of the World but also an interesting perspective on an organisation that is so hostile to the NUJ.
"Clearly, in the minds of senior executives at News International, presumably a proper journalist is one who is a fully fledged NUJ member with a union press card rather than the ones News International dispenses to its staff."
The NUJ general secretary revealed that the union is working with the inquiry team to see if working journalists can give evidence anonymously. She said: "Speaking out is not an option for many journalists" because of the threat to their existing or future employment.
She also said the union opposed the licensing of journalists and favoured a "conscience clause" to be included in journalists' work contracts which would protect them from being sacked if they refused to do unethical journalism.
Stanistreet claimed that newspapers with "a robust" NUJ presence could stick up for journalists over ethical issues, giving as an example the way the Express chapel had complained to the Press Complaints Commission over the coverage of asylum seekers in the Daily Express.
However, she said the PCC "had done nothing".
- Call for NUJ leadership to investigate how private investigator became union member
- See also Mystery of the private investigator and the NUJ
- Pic: Stanistreet at the Leveson Inquiry today.