Tuesday 4 December 2012

NUJ puts nationals on spot on conscience clause

McDonnell told Parliament Murdoch backs conscience clause

The NUJ has written to all national newspapers asking if they will be adopting a conscience clause in journalists’ contracts, as recommended by the Leveson report.

A conscience clause would prevent journalists being sacked if they refuse to act unethically if put under pressue by their employers.

The NUJ says the clause has the backing of Rupert Murdoch, the Prime Minister, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband.

Lord Justice Leveson said in his report he 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”.

The text of the conscience clause, as recommended in the NUJ’s final submission to Leveson, read: “A journalist has the right to refuse assignments or be identified as the creator of editorial which would break the letter or the spirit of the Code. No journalist should be disciplined or suffer detriment to their career for asserting his/her rights to act according to the Code."

During yesterday’s House of Commons debate John McDonnell (pictured) , NUJ Parliamentary Group chair, said: “Leveson has recommended that the editors and proprietors now consider adopting a conscience clause. Bizarrely, when Rupert Murdoch was interrogated, he accepted that proposal and now supports it. There should therefore be no reason for such a clause not to form part of a journalist's contract. The Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister also said last week that the matter should be given serious consideration, as did the Leader of the Opposition.

“The NUJ has now written to proprietors proposing the commencement of discussions on the introduction of a conscience clause in the contracts of all journalists. The Secretary of State is meeting the proprietors, and I congratulate her on involving the NUJ in those discussions. She is meeting representatives of the union as well, and they will be part of the overall discussions.

"It would be extremely helpful, now that we have cross-party consensus on the need to consider a conscience clause, if she could seek assurances from the proprietors that they will take the matter seriously and engage in discussions and negotiations on the issue and on the contractual changes that would need to take place for existing and future journalists. This could form another part of the architecture of a cultural change in journalism in this country, as well as protecting those who want to stand up for higher standards.”

Pic: John McDonnell by Jon Slattery

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