Call for Ethical Reporting of Dale Farm

29th September, 2011

Image © Paul Mattsson

Following recent extensive reporting on the Dale Farm Irish Travellers community in Essex and the impending eviction by Basildon Council, branch member Paul Mattsson brought forward a motion to the September LPB branch meeting.

Many members of the branch had been covering Dale Farm and many raised concerns towards some of the reporting of the story, from allegations made in news reports with no basis of fact or evidence, to underhanded and unethical methods of journalism that came nothing short of downright lies.

Dale Farm Motion

The Travellers who live at Dale Farm in Essex are threatened with forced eviction by Basildon Council. There have been many infringements of the NUJ Code of Conduct and the Union’s general guidelines on reporting race and the London Photographers’ Branch (LPB) is dismayed by much of the reporting of local people organising to defend their homes.

 As a branch of the trade union the LPB is also disappointed by the general lack of support and involvement of the wider labour and trade union movement in showing solidarity with Dale Farm residents and call upon the NUJ to issue a statement of support the Dale Farm Traveller’s campaign defending their community.

The LPB commends all those NUJ members, including many members of the LPB, who have reported events at Dale Farm in an ethical manner.

The LPB also calls upon the NUJ to issue a statement that the Union will defend any NUJ member who refuses to obey management if told to print and/or broadcast any material which goes against the Union’s Code of Conduct.

21 Responses:

  1. Neil Turner says:

    Why couldn’t you just stick to a motion about ethical reporting, the avoidance of racist and inflamatory language and then call for the union’s code of conduct to be followed? Once you cross the line and back a motion that takes sides in this way you just alienate good hard working journalists. There is nothing wrong with a photographer or a reporter using their journalism to put a point of view across but a motion like this makes those who prefer to take an entirely neutral stance walk away from the NUJ.

  2. Ben Cawthra says:

    As a none member who WAS in the process of applying for membership, I second what Neil Turner has said. It’s not your roll to support anyone other than journalists.

  3. Paul Mattsson says:

    As the mover of the motion I couldn’t disagree more. We are professional and neutral when we do our job, no different to teachers, nurses, social workers, firefighters, etc. But we are also workers and trade unionists. The NUJ is and has always been a proper TUC affiliated trade union, not some elitist staff association who are precious about their occupation and “neutrality” whatever that may mean. Our union like all the others has to take sides on this and many other important issues. Anything less is letting the side down. Going by your criteria we shouldn’t even go on strike as even that will be seen as taking sides. Where do you draw the line?

  4. AWiard says:

    ” Where do you draw the line? ”

    Between the NUJ fighting for our rights as press photographers, and the NUJ taking sides in the events we report as press photographers.

    Failure to draw this distinction is destroying our reputation amongst otherwise potential members who believe they should be seen to be reporting as independent observers ( whatever the different views and opinions they privately hold ).

    The NUJ should represent not only campaigning journalists but also those whose job is straight reporting. Moreover it’s worth pointing out that campaigning journalists are not all of one mind.

    I’m very precious about my occupation, by the way.

  5. Jess Hurd says:

    Ok an example – “I’m a Photographer Not a Terrorist” was a highly successful campaign, which highlighted the abuse of the terrorism laws. We were criticised by people in the beginning for being “too political”. It was political and successful because it united amateur and professional photographers in a high profile campaign, engaged the mainstream and social media, challenged through the courts, represented our concerns in Parliament and won public opinion. We started the campaign as NUJ members, backed by the NUJ, representing our colleagues who were being unfairly targeted by the police. I was not initially targeted but stood up with my colleagues against the harassment they faced. This is what it means to be a trade unionist IMHO.

  6. Paul Mattsson says:

    We are no different to the groups of workers I mentioned above. Would you say the same if the NUT, Unison, FBU, etc. were to pass similar motions? What about civil servants and their union the PCS who have shown no such reluctance to take sides on various issues not related to their job description?

    The NUJ is also quite rightly along with the RMT, PCS, CWU affiliated to the the National Shop Stewards Network of leading left trade unions, we send delegates to their meetings. We are also affiliated to the Cuba Solidarity Campaign not to mention the TUC. All these bodies take positions on a number of issues. You seriously saying we should be more “neutral” than civil servants in doing their jobs?

    When has the bourgeois media ever been neutral anyway? Its not as if we cover events holding a camera in one hand and a placard with a bunch of leftie papers in the other is it? As I said before we are professional when we do our job. The motion doesn’t change this one little bit.

    In conclusion can anyone give examples of any occasions where NUJ positions/statements/motions passed at branch, regional or national level on any issues has undermined and affected the ability to do the job?

    • Andrew Wiard says:

      @ Paul

      ” We are no different to the groups of workers I mentioned above ”

      Yes we are. If you don’t understand that you cannot understand why so many press photographers refuse to join the NUJ. Journalists either report impartially, or express widely varying and conflicting points of view. This is the essence of what we do. When the NUJ takes sides, it offends the former because they think it inappropriate for their professional organisation to fail to meet their high standards, and the latter because it will inevitably be opposing so many of them in what they say and write. That’s why the NUJ does not affiliate to any political party. But unfortunately it does not follow this principle to its logical conclusion, which is to only take sides, with us, when we are in conflict with our employers, our clients, or censorship in all its forms.

      ” can anyone give examples of any occasions where NUJ positions/statements/motions passed at branch, regional or national level on any issues has undermined and affected the ability to do the job?”

      Those who report the news must not only do the job properly, but be seen to do so, which is why when the NUJ annual conference voted to back Gaddafi after the US bombed Tripoli in 1986, the union haemorrhaged members from national papers. And for every one who walked, there must have been four or five more who thought of leaving. The real job then was to defend those BBC journalists who defied the British Government of the day by reporting, impartially, accurately, what those bombs did to the civilian population. The NUJ is at its best when it takes the side of those who speak truth to power.

  7. Jess Hurd says:

    This is an interesting debate, but I think people are a little confused about what a trade union is. We can take a collective trade union position on broader political issues of the day and remain as ‘impartial’ as we like when we are working. We are not a camera club or association, we have representation at the highest level of politics via our NUJ group of MP’s. I’ve photographed many events that the NUJ as a union has supported. We not only represent individuals, we are part of a broader trade union campaigning network and I’m proud of that. All LPB branch members are entitled to bring motions to be discussed and voted on at branch meetings. I wasn’t at the last branch meeting when Dale Farm was discussed, if people want to table a motion email it to the branch secretary and we will discuss it at the next meeting on the 25th October. That’s democracy folks.

    • Andrew Wiard says:

      No confusion here. A trade union represents its members at work. But what your are saying is far too simplistic as while some trade unions go on to take a political stand, others do not. There are, in other words, political unions and apolitical unions. There is confusion allright, within the NUJ, as to which of these two the union is or ought to be. No confusion here. However strongly I may feel about this political cause or that ( and I do ), I am in no doubt that for the sake of the professional reputations of its members, the NUJ, their professional organisation, must remain aloof. You might be impartial while your union is not, and be clear about that. No-one else is. As has been pointed out on Snapperweb, the rest of the world will not view photographers as independent witnesses if their professional representatives are known to be taking sides. It’s time the NUJ thought this through. That’s where the confusion lies.

  8. Larry Herman says:

    Of course there are very many concerns NUJ members have and these do generally come from our workplace, whether we hold permanent jobs or work the streets freelancing. Most recently, extreme pressure has been forced upon some journalists and organisations to release photographs to the police so that the images could be used as evidence against those who rioted. The NUJ is right to argue against this, not because the NUJ endorses rioting, but from the understanding that allowing the police access to our work jeopardises our very ability to work.

    There are trade union activists who draw that proverbial line between what they would label economic and social issues and there are those activists who argue that there is no line between economic and social concerns for the UNION. For example, our well being depends on good housing, the NHS, free schooling and constantly higher pay for the work we do.

    Since its founding a relatively short time ago, the LPB has had a few organised discussions in the Branch about working conditions while covering events, whether we’re working in the City in London, Dale Farm, Cairo or Athens. These discussions are practical, for example, a very skilled photographer brought along a helmet, shin guards and a bullet proof vest to explain precautionary clothing that should be worn while covering certain types of stories. As trade unionists, we understand health and safety means protecting ourselves form using a keyboard without adequate rest periods and fighting to keep a local A & E open.

    Trade unionists should refuse to supply or handle any racist material. We should refuse to supply or handle any sexist material. We should defend our Union’s Code of Conduct. This is what the Dale Farm resolution is all about. The resolution is not about the “neutrality of journalism” but about racism and a tiny but determined group of people in a very small area of the world, fighting for the right to remain living where they are.

    This is why I seconded the resolution.

    Yours,

    Larry Herman

  9. Cliff Hide says:

    Larry: I think you should try reading the resolution again as your justification for supporting it doesn’t match what it says. Can you explain the fouth paragraph please? The one that expresses support for the Dale Farm Traveller’s campaign. Can you also explain why the article is tagged with “ethnic cleansing”?

  10. Paul Mattsson says:

    Fourth paragraph:

    “The LPB also calls upon the NUJ to issue a statement that the Union will defend any NUJ member who refuses to obey management if told to print and/or broadcast any material which goes against the Union’s Code of Conduct.”

    Whats the problem here? Its a code of conduct issue, which we ALL sign when joining the NUJ.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethnic_cleansing

    What bit of that don’t you understand?

  11. helen says:

    I am a trade unionist and a healthcare worker and I recently visited Dale Farm. I was struck by some of the chronic health problems I encountered amongst the residents on the site and the stress of the eviction is making these problems worse. I feel strongly that the unions should stand with the travellers. I have been frustrated in my attempts to even get the local health union involved in this issue even though basildon general is the admitting hospital for the travellers! What it boils down to is people basically not giving a damn about the travellers and not wishing to risk their cosy, comfortable positions in the union so well done to the NUJ for this resolution! The PCS are also on board with the campaign.

  12. Franc says:

    Pastor Martin Niemoller says in his poem ” . . . . In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist . . . “

  13. Ethnic Cleansing: “the planned deliberate removal from a specific territory, persons of a particular ethnic group, by force or intimidation, in order to render that area ethnically homogenous.” – Commission of Experts

    Ethnic Cleansing: “rendering an area ethnically homogeneous by using force or intimidation to remove from a given area persons of another ethnic or religious group.” – United Nations

  14. Phien O'Phien says:

    Thank you to those who would and do support our stand against those who would remove us from our homes…And to those who wont because it might infringe their neutrality…friends you are welcome to that neutrality, may it comfort you if your ever in need of a helping hand..

    The Traveller ventured a smile and received a stare
    Offered his hand only to grasp a snub
    Asked for help and was denied
    The Traveller sadly smiled once more and walked away…

  15. Jess Hurd says:

    A Dale Farm resident accepted substantial libel damages today over an article in The People claiming she was to be investigated over allegations of slavery: http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=1&storycode=48217&c=1

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