PM bows to pressure on Leveson ‘conscience clause’

NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet (left) at a Unions21 event on unions and the media

DAVID Cameron responded positively to pressure to instate a ‘conscience clause’ to protect journalists – a proposal campaigned for by the NUJ.


John McDonnell Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington asked the PM to build consensus on the issue in the Parliamentary debate on Leveson saying: “… Leveson recommends the consideration by proprietors of the introduction of a conscience clause to protect journalists who refuse in any way to go against the code of practice. Will the Prime Minister join me in urging proprietors to meet the National Union of Journalists and whoever else to start working on introducing a conscience clause in contracts?”


The PM agreed, saying “There are many sensible recommendations that can be put into place”.


The Executive Summary of the Leveson Report states:

“…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.”


Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ General Secretary said: “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.


“Journalists should always have the right to refuse assignments that contravene their ethical code; no journalists should be disciplined or suffer detriment to their careers for asserting their 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.”


Controversy still remains over whether the Government will opt for statutory control, opposed by David Cameron, unlike his deputy Nick Clegg, and the Labour leader Ed Miliband who want a new law introduced without delay.



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