NUJ seeks 'conscience clause' for journalists

The President of the NUJ has called on trade unions to support a new ‘conscience clause’ that would protect journalists from the wrath of editors should they refuse to write a story for moral reasons.

Speaking to the TUC, Tim Lezard said the time had come for a clause that would safeguard its members from disciplinary action or detriment to their career, if journalists decline to write stories attacking refugees, asylum seekers or Muslims.

Press reporters are fed up with pressure from editors or proprietors to pen racist or offensive stories but often feel they have no choice for fear of losing their job, Mr Lezard hinted.

“What are journalists supposed to do about that?” he asked.

“Sadly, some of them agree with their paper’s policies and I’m making no excuses for them, but what of the others? Why don’t they speak out?”

He enforced his point by citing the example of a tabloid newspaper proprietor who, he said, moments before deadline personally wrote inflammatory headlines attacking refugees or asylum seekers.

The NUJ President also cited the case of 70 exasperated Daily Express journalists who were driven to take their own paper to the Press Complaints Commission over a story about Roma families.

The article in question reportedly went to press warning about the “exodus of gypsies” from Slovakia into the UK.

But the complaint was rejected, and the NUJ pointed out that Express Editor Peter Hill sat on the PCC committee.

The Union added that journalists working in the UK and Ireland are already encouraged to remember the ethical code dating back to 1936, which its members sign up to and is available for viewing via the NUJ’s homepage.

It states that journalists shall not mention a person’s colour race or religion unless “strictly relevant” to the story, “shall not originate or process material which encourages discrimination, ridicule, prejudice or hared.”

Yet the desired ‘conscience clause’ would go even further.

It would give the journalist ‘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.’

Mr Lezard asked the conference to endorse the NUJ’s conscience clause and called on newspaper editors, broadcasters, MPs, MSPs and AMs to back it.

He added that it would be interesting to see which editors refuse to accept and sign up to the desired conscience clause.


16th September 2005

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