Journalists are being invited to submit their own views on press standards, to the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practice and ethics of the press, which began yesterday.
It follows the National Union of Journalists being awarded 'core participant status' after successfully appealing an original decision against, despite the majority of newspaper groups having received it.
Submissions would be made via the NUJ's general-secretary, Michelle Stanistreet.
Says Stanistreet – who was unable, because of fog-bound flights out of London, to attend a meeting last night of the Edinburgh Freelance and Edinburgh and District branches of the union: “It is vital that the newspaper bosses are not allowed to dominate this inquiry and that the concerns, experiences and views of ordinary working journalists are placed firmly at its heart.”
She continued: “Clearly the ongoing scandal at News International has put the spotlight on journalistic practices and ethics as never before. The first module of the inquiry will focus on culture, practices and ethics. Obviously phone hacking is part of this, but the issues are much broader than what was happening in one newspaper group.
“We will be spelling out at the Inquiry the NUJ's policy on ethics – as a trade union which has always had our Code of Conduct at its heart. And of course as part of that code, we commit to vigorously defending the public interest test. The NUJ would vigorously defend members using 'other means' if it is in the pursuit of a story that is clearly in the overriding public interest. The reality is that too many newspapers have resorted to private detectives as a shortcut to gaining information by traditional – and therefore often labour-intensive and expensive – journalistic means with a focus on celebrity tittle tattle and gossip.
“Savage cost-cutting within the industry has also massively increased the pressure on journalists to deliver stories, without the time and resources to do a job well and professionally. Specialist correspondents, once the mainstay of newsrooms both nationally and regionally, have become something of an endangered species. In this context, investigative journalism has been hit hard, as costs have been cut and investment massively scaled back in the newspaper industry.”
Says a BBC Q&A on the Inquiry: “The inquiry has two parts, the first of which will examine relations between the press, politicians and police, and the conduct of each. It will consider the extent to which the current regulatory regime has failed, and whether there has been a failure to act upon any previous warnings about media misconduct.
“The second part will look at the extent of unlawful or improper conduct within News International and other media organisations. It will also examine the way in which any relevant police force investigated allegations relating to News International, and whether the police received corrupt payments or were otherwise complicit in misconduct.
“It will also consider the role, if any, of politicians, public servants and others in relation to any failure to investigate wrongdoing at News International. The remit also includes broadcasters and social media networks.”
Adds Stanistreet: “We also want to paint a picture of the reality of newsroom culture and the pressures that journalists in some workplaces have come under to deliver the goods, and even to write stories that are inaccurate or misleading. These practices do not exist within a vacuum. NUJ chapels have taken collective steps to challenge this pressure in the past, even referring complaints to the Press Complaints Commission which, as ever, failed to investigate properly.
“Many members who have come to the NUJ for help have also been victims of an entrenched culture of bullying, and have been put under enormous pressure to deliver or else face the consequences of being sacked.
“The NUJ has also been campaigning for some years now for the introduction of a Conscience Clause in law, in order that journalists who take a stand against their employer on an ethical issue have protection against being dismissed. It is our experience that journalists in workplace chapels where the NUJ is recognised feel more confident about raising such issues collectively.”
Approaches by individual journalists will be treated by Stanistreet personally and in complete confidence.
Stanistreet continues: “Leveson has also been clear in stating that he is interested in the full breadth of culture, practice and ethics in the press – that means the good practice as well as the bad.
“This is an Inquiry that could shape the future of our industry and it is vital that the views of working journalists are heard and seriously considered.”
The Inquiry began yesterday with claims that notebooks belonging to private detective, Glenn Mulcaire, suggested he hacked phones for more newspapers than just the News of the World, with the names of 28 different News of the World employees written at the top of pages.