It seems that Lord Justice Leveson has listened to the NUJ's calls for a "conscience clause" in contracts to protect journalists from being sacked if they refuse to act unethically in pursuit of a story.
He says in his Report published today: "Finally, I was struck by the evidence of journalists who felt that they might be put under pressure to do things that were unethical or against the code. I therefore suggest that the new independent self-regulatory body should establish a whistle-blowing hotline and encourage its members to ensure that journalists’ contracts include a conscience clause protecting them if they refuse."
In her evidence to Leveson, NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet (pictured) gave examples of bullying of staff in some newsrooms.
Stanistreet said in a letter to NUJ members yesterday: “From the outset of the Leveson inquiry, we demanded a conscience clause to safeguard journalists who object to being made to act unethically in the pursuit of a story. The industry – both the Press Complaints Commission and the Society of Editors – has repeatedly refused to bring in a conscience clause, despite the Home Affairs Select Committee backing this NUJ’s campaign as long ago as 2003.
“We highlighted the vital role a trade union plays in any workplace, and how in journalism the NUJ plays a role in maintaining standards and standing up for ethical journalism, as well as the bread and butter industrial issues of pay and conditions.
"We explained to Lord Leveson that an NUJ workplace chapel is not simply the vehicle for putting together pay claims and campaigning for better terms and conditions it is also the place where members can raise issues of concern on ethical matters, on staffing levels, and on bullying and editorial pressure within their workplace.”
Stanistreet said in a statement: “From the outset of the Leveson inquiry, we demanded a conscience clause to safeguard journalists who object to being made to act unethically in the pursuit of a story.
“The NUJ has been campaigning for years for a conscience clause in contracts of employment and we are delighted that Lord Justice Leveson has listened to the voice of journalists.
“The NUJ will now do all it can to ensure that when journalists stand up for a principle of journalistic ethics they have a contractual protection against being dismissed.
“Now is the time to build a solid framework that gives journalists the confidence and the security to put their head above the parapet and take a stand for ethical journalism.
“A journalist should always have the right to refuse assignments and no journalist should be disciplined or suffer detriment to their career for asserting his or her right to act ethically.
“The new independent self-regulatory body should ensure that journalists’ contracts include a conscience clause.
“The NUJ welcomes Lord Justice Leveson’s support for a free press and independent regulation of the press - independent of both government and of the industry.
“We’re also pleased that the recommendations include civic society involvement and the recommendation that the new body needs an independent chair and board appointed in a fair and transparent process. The board should include the voice of journalists, through the NUJ. We explained to Lord Leveson, in our unique position as the media trade union recognised by the inquiry as a core participant in his hearings, that NUJ workplace organisation is not simply the vehicle for putting together pay claims and campaigning for jobs, terms and conditions. It is also the means through which journalists can raise issues of concern on ethical matters, bullying and editorial pressure.
“The NUJ supports the recommendation that the new body should accept third party complaints, provide incentives and tackle prejudicial or pejorative references to race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or physical or mental illness or disability.
“It is disappointing that Lord Leveson has not made recommendations in relation to media ownership and plurality - it is significant that the unfolding scandal at News International happened in a company with a 35.15% share of the market and in a workplace where the NUJ has been effectively blocked by Rupert Murdoch for years.
- See also, Tony Harcup: 'How a conscience clause could fill the ethical vacuum in the newsroom'.
- Pic. Michelle Stanistreet (Jon Slattery)