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2011 NUJ Delegate Meeting report

The 2011 NUJ Delegate Meeting (DM or conference) on 8-10 April in Southport opened with a vote close enough to be counted on whether to have Delegate Meetings every 18 months or to revert to annual conferences. (This was the first 18-monthly DM.) After a recount, the NUJ voted to continue with conferences every 18 months.

Padraig Belton's first speech to an NUJ DM
LFB's own Padraig Belton pronounced himself "positively giddy" at being able to give his first speech - on the interns campaign - to an NUJ delegate meeting


The conference heard from exiled journalist Charles Atangana, who has since won leave to remain in the UK. At the time, he faced deportation to Cameroon, from which he had fled after reporting on corruption. Said Charles, "If I am here it is because of you, because of the NUJ. I cannot thank you enough". Other NUJ members still face "the barbarity of the threat of deportation".

LFB Treasurer Jenny Vaughan described a "total lack of civilization" at "utterly outrageous" forced repatriations, such at the one that led to the death of Angolan refugee Jimmy Mubenga on a plane at Heathrow in October 2010. Conference voted to instruct its National Executive Council (NEC) to campaign against these. NUJ Legal Officer Roy Mincoff warned that some BBC World Service people are in the UK on visas linked to their jobs. They face deportation when their job is cut.

Jenny Vaughan
Jenny Vaughan - LFB's Treasurer - denounced "utterly outrageous" forced repatriations

This being a meeting that included many sub-editors, there was a heated debate about the role of a comma in a motion on supporting asylum-seeker journalists.

Cashback for Interns campaign

Outgoing General Secretary Jeremy Dear revealed that he and sister union BECTU and some media interns had given evidence at a Low Pay Commission enquiry, and said of media owners who exploit unpaid intern labour, "I've always wanted to say this to them, but see you in court." LFB's Fiona O'Cleirigh said young journalists were "forced to self-exploit".

LFB's Padraig Belton, who joined the NUJ as a student, said "If we don't stand by journalists when they're young, they'll not stand with us later on." Roy Mincoff expressed the hope that forthcoming court cases by interns to secure the minimum wage for their work "would have a a deterrent effect on others."


The conference voted in favour of a diversity audit to look at the composition of union's workforce - especially it terms of its gender and sexual orientation. The union re-affirmed its policy of zero tolerance on sexism. The NUJ's Black Members council will be expanded to include two new seats for Black and ethnic minority student journalists.

To be reviewed - structure, earnings, kite mark for blogs

There were several motions calling for reviews of union structure, looking at whether workplace "chapels", industrial councils and geographical branches were still fit for purpose in today's world. The New Media Industrial Council felt the Union's "structure relates to a past era" - they couldn't take on talented people to fill vacancies on their council because these had to be from a certain geographical areas. Two such reviews are now under way, to report back at the next DM. The existing requirement that at least of an applicant member's earning be from journalism will also be reviewed.

And there's a review on whether or not NUJ should get involved in quality control for blogs. One motion proposed adopting an NUJ widget which would serve as a kite-mark for good quality blogs, linked to the NUJ's code of conduct. The motion was adopted in an amended form which removed many specific recommendations and sent its proposals to a working group to be looked into.

Phone hacking

With news coming in that the News of the World had admitted phone hacking and offered compensation, Jeremy Dear condemned phone hacking but pointed out that there are circumstances when in the "overwhelming public interest defence" it may be justified and therefore legal.

Abolish the PCC!

The debate turned to the Press Complaints Council (PCC). LFB's Jake Ecclestone said that "in the past we've called for reform" but the Commission has "buried" the NUJ's constructive suggestions. Jake denounced the PCC as a "vile body", and an "impediment" that "cannot be reformed". The motion to campaign for the PCC's abolition was carried. It was pointed out that the NUJ does have a seat on the Press Council of Ireland, and it seems to be working better than its UK counterpart.

Photography matters

There was praise for the work done by the new . London Photographers' Branch LFB's Phil Sutcliffe spoke to a motion proposing an industrial council to represent photographers' interests. Phil said "the photographic side of union is developing fast and strong in terms of cohesion... and collective identity" and such a council would be a "conduit for this massive energy that's coming up." Phil highlighted among issues facing photographers "the enormous cost of being a photographer." After a count, the motion was defeated by only 11 votes. Photographers queuing to speak to the motion were photographing the conference floor from the queue.

Delegate Meeting vote in progress
The DM takes a vote - the view from the LFB delegation's table

Freelance Officer John Toner announced that wallet-sized cards are to be issued to 5000 Met police officers "soon", informing them of photographers' rights and clarifying what police cannot do to photographers. John said this would mean "one fewer excuse to harass" us. Watch this space.

A motion was passed in support of campaign for free photography in public places. Bristol freelance Simon Chapman said park wardens in Bristol now demand a £150 permit plus £50 an hour for shoots in the city's council-owned public spaces. The fee is imposed by Bristol Film Office, which is aimed at large TV productions like Casualty and demands fees regardless of the size of the operation. Lots of news photographers are affected, as they now have to do PR shoots as well to make a living.


One conference guest speakers was Claudia Julieta Duque, a journalist from Colombia. 20 years of documenting human rights abuses by the state security services had resulted in her being the subject of threats, intimidation, harassment and kidnapping. She was forced to flee three times, and she found an operations manual detailing "offensive intelligence" on her and her then pre-teen daughter. Claudia also uncovered a security services memo stating she was to be raped, tortured and killed. The authorities ignore court rulings, destroyed documents and kept Claudia under illegal surveillance, with "no one called to account."

In Colombia seven journalists were killed last year."Being a journalist there is a little complicated but I like it" said Claudia, "It's an adventure."

Freelance rights

John Toner announced that 25 per cent of the NUJ membership is now freelance. He said we are "limited by the laws that weaken organisation of freelances" and that the NUJ needs to give the Trades Union Congress (TUC) campaign for freelance rights "more urgency". John concluded that "the future is freelance, freelances don't have a future" unless they are supported.

Freedom of Information

The conference endorsed a call by LFB Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) expert Mark Watts for an NUJ campaign to prevent curbs to FOIA, or cuts or redundancies to the Information Commissioner's Office that enforces it. The DM heard a report of some local council meetings where no minutes were taken so "it couldn't be FIOA'd."

Irish delegates told how Ireland's previous government imposed a 50-Euro charge for requests under that country's FOIA, which had a "crippling effect". FOIA is now back on the political agenda, with pledges by the new Irish government to restore the original FOIA Act, and to extend it to some bodies not previously covered.

Press Card

John Toner noted that the "price of an independent Press Card is constant vigilance" and re-asserted that Press Card is for newsgatherers only. A motion was passed requiring members to prove they are still newsgatherers whenever they re-apply for a Press Card, and to supply a new photo every time they re-apply. Said LFB's Jenny Vaughan, "Press Cards should mean something".

The Journalist

A motion to change from an elected editor of the Journalist to an editor interviewed and appointed by the NEC fell. And freelances please note, Jeremy Dear told DM the freelance budget of the Journalist has increased.

For further reading

Once again there was promise that minutes of NEC meetings would become available, as would a list of bodies to which the NUJ is affiliated.

Last modified: 26 Apr 2011 - © 2011 contributors
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