NUJ general secretary hit out at the PCC and News International during her Leveson inquiry address, and said that a new model was needed for self-regulationCredit: Yui Mok/PA
Michelle Stanistreet, the general secretary of the NUJ, said this morning that the Press Complaints Commission was "little more than a self-serving gentleman's club, and not a very good one at that".
Appearing at the Leveson inquiry, Stanistreet said that the PCC and the current system of self regulation in the UK had "failed, and abysmally so", telling the inquiry that the system "excludes both producers and consumers of media output and represents only the owners".
"The general public and journalists have had to contend with what has been little more than a self-serving gentleman's club."
Noting Richard Desmond's decision to take his Northern & Shell publishing company out of scope of the PCC, she said the regulator was "not even a club that newspapers were obliged to join".
Stanistreet emphasised that the union did not support any form of statutory regulation of the press, but noted that there are "plenty of other models of regulation out there with teeth that provide more than a veneer of accountability".
She cited in particular the Press Council of Ireland, established in 2003, telling the inquiry that "Irish journalism and Irish society" has benefited from "enlightened cooperation in the public interest".
Stanistreet also hit out at News International during her testimony, claiming that the suggestion that an editor would have no idea what their staff were up to or how they obtain stories is "laughable" and "fanciful in the extreme".
Andy Coulson – the former editor of the News of the World and later Downing Street director of communications, who was arrested in July – has consistently denied any knowledge of phone hacking that took place under his editorship.
Stanistreet added said that the "rogue reporter" defence maintained by the company until earlier this year was "as daft as it was unbelievable".
Rhodri Davies QC, who is representing News International at the inquiry, accepted yesterday that the rogue reporter line was false and acknowledged that there was no public interest justification for actions of the publisher's staff.
Stanistreet laid some of the blame for the illegality at News International on what she called the company's move to "derecognise and disempower" the NUJ in the 1980s, when it battled with the union over its controversial move to Wapping. She said that without the presence of the independent collective bargaining offered by the union, "unaccountable cultures, practices and ethics" had evolved at the company.
Reiterated by Stanistreet at the inquiry this morning, the union is calling for the implementation of a "conscience clause" similar to the one contained in the NUJ code of conduct. She told Leveson that the clause would be a "great advance for journalists and journalism in the UK".
The union's own clause reads: "The NUJ believes a journalist has the right to refuse an assignment or be identified as the author of editorial that would break the letter or spirit of the code. The NUJ will fully support any journalist disciplined for asserting her/his right to act according to the code."
Stanistreet also accused the News of the World of a "breathtakingly cynical" move in instructing private investigator Derek Webb to pretend to be a journalist in order to join the union., adding that it was "an interesting move on the part of an organisation so hostile to the NUJ".
She confirmed that Webb, who claims that a News International executive instructed him to conduct surveillance of several public figures, is a member of the union.
The union previously declined to comment on Webb's claims, made to the BBC, but Stanistreet said today: "He was told to join the NUJ and this he did."
Also appearing at the inquiry today are Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger and lawyer David Sherbourne, who is representing alleged victims of phone hacking.