Web journalists at Qatar-based Al-Jazeera.net will soon be represented by the UK’s National Union of Journalists (NUJ).

Al-Jazeera launched an English-language version of the news site earlier this year and employs 21 online journalists.

Seventeen journalists on the web team have signed up to form a 'circle' of NUJ members. Senior editor Yvonne Ridley, who joined Al-Jazeera in July this year, will lead the NUJ group.

"This is historic - my understanding is that this is the first Middle East branch of the NUJ,” Ms Ridley told dotJournalism.

"The NUJ is affiliated to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), and Al-Jazeera has worked closely with the IFJ in the past as its reporters have been regularly targeted by different factions."

The NUJ is one of the world’s largest unions for journalists and represents more than 34,000 professionals including reporters, broadcasters, photographers and freelancers.

The union provides representation and support for journalists on a range of employment issues including pay, discrimination, working conditions and copyright.

"All journalists should belong to a union, and internet journalists have exactly the same rights as other journalists," said Ms Ridley.

In October 2001, Ms Ridley was held prisoner by the Taleban in Afghanistan for 11 days while covering the humanitarian crisis for the Sunday Express.

"I’ve been a print journalist for more than 25 years and if someone had told me a few years ago that I’d be working for a web site, I would have laughed," she said.

"But it has given me a new lease of life. There’s a new deadline every second, and the feedback is instant.

"We have an international team of journalists with an excellent reputation."

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