Michelle Stanistreet NUJ

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet, who told the TUC conference yesterday that 'union busting' had led to a 'moral vacuum' at News International

Credit: Yui Mok/PA

Unions at the TUC conference in London have unanimously voted for a new "conscience clause" to protect journalists from being dismissed for standing up against pressure to take part in unethical activities.

The call for a new clause came from the National Union of Journalists. Michelle Stanistreet, the union's general secretary, told delegates:
"The NUJ’s Code of Conduct governs all our members and is at the heart of what we stand for as a union.

"We have been long campaigning for journalists have the right to a conscience clause, in law, so that when they stand up for a principle of journalistic ethics they have a protection against being dismissed."

The NUJ motion follows the phone-hacking scandal at the News of the World and subsequent closure of the tabloid, with the loss of around 280 jobs. Stanistreet said that there was a "clear parallel" between the "union busting" actions of Rupert Murdoch since he moved News International to Wapping in 1986 and the "moral vacuum" that had followed at the company.

She told the conference that they faced "another Wapping moment" and called on delegates to "deliver recognition back to the unions" and "ensure that ethical journalism is protected from meddling proprietors".

In order to combat the actions of the unions during the Wapping dispute, Murdoch set up an in-house staff association, NISA, which despite not being certified as independent by the certification body allowed him to block outside unions from being represented.

Stanistreet accused News International of having played a "shameful role" in weakening unions throughout the print industry.

"Murdoch has used the full force of his influence to brutally break the unions, with the backing of the courts, the police and the government as instruments of his will.

"Journalists at Wapping have been denied the collective protection and representation of an independent trade union. There is a clear parallel between the effect of union-busting and the moral vacuum that has been allowed to proliferate at News International. Collective trade union representation is a moral, human right and it’s high time Murdoch was forced to let the NUJ back in.

The NUJ has also submitted a separate emergency motion to the conference, which it hopes to have added to the agenda today, calling on the unions to publicly condemn alleged attacks on the press by members of the English Defence League.

According to the union, journalists were repeatedly assaulted during a rally staged by the far-right group in East London earlier this month, including one being set on fire and another sexually assaulted.

The union intends to call on the TUC's General Council to campaign against far-right groups.

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