Journalists get bullied by union-bashing bosses …

Convicted phone hacker Andy Coulson walked free from court yesterday cleared of perjury.

The judge told the jury, “Not every lie amounts to perjury” and that the former News of the World boss’ alleged lies about phone hacking were not material to main case at the Tommy Sheridan trial and so the case was thrown out.

People inevitably took to Twitter commenting on the case – and saying again how little they trust journalists.

It’s four years since the News of the World closed but still people feel aggrieved by what they saw and still they feel little confidence in journalists to tell the truth or to be capable of integrity, loyalty and political principle.Lois Lane

Still few see or accept the reality of the pressures on journalists to do as they’re told. Too many think journalists live in some Daily Planet bubble where they can run into the offices of editors like Andy Coulson and demand to be heard, demand to tell their story, demand not to write something racist or sexist. We rarely can. Like most workers we simply don’t have that power.

When a housing worker in a Tory council evicts a tenant for not being able to afford their rent in times of austerity we can’t blame that individual worker. When a factory worker shoves horse meat into a packet and labels it beef we can’t blame that individual worker.

And – just like other workers – we get bullied if we do stand up for what we believe in.

Michell Stanistreet, the National Union of Journalists general secretary, told the Leveson Inquiry: “”The range of issues the journalists have raised with me include, but are not restricted to – endemic bullying, huge pressure to deliver stories, overwhelming commercial pressures which are allowed to dictate what is published and the overweening power and control of editors over their journalists and of employers over their editors.”

She added: “They feel too scared and frightened to give evidence in a wayLois Lane which would allow them to be identified by their current or prospective media employers. Those who have experienced or witnessed bullying of a vicious and engrained nature have largely been too fearful to speak out in case they lost their job or were forced out.

“Those who have witnessed first-hand unethical behaviour or been pressured into working in a way that is unethical are frankly terrified about being identified.”

Some have found the courage to be identified and to walk out …

Rich Peppiatt, writer and director of One Rogue Reporter, walked out of the Daily Star offices in protest at what he saw as anti-Muslim propaganda, stating: “I may have been just a lowly hack in your business empire, void of the power to make you change your ways, but there is still one thing that I can do; that I was trained to do; that I love to do: write about it.”

Peter Oborne resigned from the Telegraph over what he considered its fraudulent coverage allowing HSBC to influence content for fear of losing ad revenue, saying: “I expressed all of my concerns about the direction of the paper. […] I was resigning as a matter of conscience. Mr MacLennan (chief executive) agreed that advertising was allowed to affect editorial, but was unapologetic, saying that “it was not as bad as all that” and adding that there was a long history of this sort of thing at the Telegraph.”

But it’s not all about national journalists and indeed certainly not all about tabloid journalists. The industry – trade press, local newspapers, regional titles, magazines – is rife with bullying and workers too scared to stand up for themselves or for their work because they fear they will be sacked. Superman

Phil Turner has worked at the Rotherham Advertiser for 30 years. He is also the chapel’s FoC – that is he is the National Union of Journalists shop steward.

Phil has been singled out by bosses for compulsory redundancy. The NUJ is appealing the decision, seeing the targeting of Phil as a deliberate attack on the journalists’ union and on the wider trade union movement.

Phil’s colleagues are defending him. They intend to strike on June 11th and there is a protest this Saturday in Rotherham’s All Saints Square at 12 noon.

Chris Morley, the NUJ’s Northern and Midlands organiser, said: “The company has made a grave error in selecting Phil for dismissal in such a transparent attempt to reduce the effectiveness of the chapel at the Rotherham Advertiser. Even when required savings were found elsewhere, the new management of the company still insisted that a compulsory redundancy had to be made in editorial and that it just happened to be the FoC.”

It’s time to recognise journalists don’t have some innate power unavailable to other workers.  We’re not all Lois Lanes and Clark Kents (even Clark Kent left the Daily Planet tired of the drivel he had to produce). 

And we depend on union support and solidarity like other workers.

Also … we’re not all phone hackers. We don’t sit gleefully writing racist crap. We don’t shovel shit into the internet and think we’ve got it made. We do recognise the influence of advertising and of corrupt bosses. We get bullied and victimised.

We’re workers, just like you.

The union is urging NUJ members and supporters to contact the Rotherham Advertiser in protest. Please send respectful messages of protest to Rotherham Advertiser chief executive Nick Alexander and copy in the editor Andrew Mosley and HR officer Debbie Commander.
nick.alexander@garnett-dickinson.co.uk  
Andrew.Mosley@rotherhamadvertiser.co.uk
debbie.commander@garnett-dickinson.co.uk   

You can also send messages of support and solidarity to Phil Turner:

Email the chapel and copy in the NUJ campaigns and communications department:
syorksnuj@hotmail.co.uk
campaigns@nuj.org.uk  

HOW – AND WHY – TO JOIN THE NUJ

Superman

The media frenzy on so-called “honour killing” …

The parents of Shafilea Ahmed did not kill her for “honour” but because domestic violence “transcends culture, class, race, and religion.”

This as the conclusion of the leading investigating officer – so why are our newspapers full of bold headlines and in-depth discussion about “honour killing”?

As far as I can tell –and I’m happy to be corrected – it is the media that has made the link between Shafilea’s parents’ excuse for murder and “honour” not the police or the judge.

Speaking after the sentencing, Detective Superintendent Geraint Jones, who led the inquiry for Cheshire Police, said: “Over the years, many people have asked me – is this a so-called honour killing? For me, it’s a simple case of murder.

“This is a case of domestic abuse by two parents towards their children. Domestic abuse is, sadly, something which the police have to deal with too often. “

The judge, when sentencing her parents for murder, told them: “Your concern about being shamed in your community was greater than the love of your child” but didn’t use the term “honour killing” – a term put in speech marks by most domestic violence charities and those newspapers not accepting it wholesale.

Women’s Aid says that with domestic violence: “’Blaming the victim’ is something that abusers will often do to make excuses for their behaviour, and quite often they manage to convince their victims that the abuse is indeed their fault.

“This is part of the pattern and is in itself abusive. Blaming their behaviour on someone else, or on the relationship, their childhood, their ill health, or their alcohol or drug addiction is one way in which many abusers try to avoid personal responsibility for their behaviour.”

The charity defines domestic violence as, “physical, sexual, psychological or financial violence that takes place within an intimate or family-type relationship and that forms a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour. This can include forced marriage and so-called ‘honour crimes’. Domestic violence may include a range of abusive behaviours, not all of which are in themselves inherently ‘violent’.”

While “honour-based” violence, according to Domestic Violence London, “can exist in any culture or community where males are in position to establish and enforce women’s conduct.

“Males can also be victims, sometimes as a consequence of a relationship which is deemed to be inappropriate, if they are gay, have a disability or if they have assisted a victim.”

So why, if shame, honour, embarrassment and doing things wrong – or your favourite football team losing – are common excuses for domestic abuse, has the UK media whipped itself into a frenzy about “honour killing” rather than reeling in horror at domestic violence?

Women’s Aid:

  •  1 in 4 will be a victim of domestic violence in their lifetime – many of these on a number of occasions
  • 1 incident of domestic violence is reported to the police every minute
  • on average, 2 women a week are killed by a current or former male partner.

Meanwhile, in the US a white, middle class Christian couple killed their black adopted daughter. As with police in the UK, “investigators found the Washington state couple adhered to a harsh child-rearing regimen prescribed by a controversial Christian parenting book, the prosecutor said earlier this month that religion was not relevant to the criminal case.”

Another couple were charged with murdering their child who they believed had the devil inside her and God told them to stick a rose down her throat. While their status as “immigrant” is seen as significant here – their religion isn’t further discussed.

There are, of course, more intellectual approaches than that of the Daily Mail – aren’t there always? The New Statesman, for example, states that “the left cannot remain silent over honour killings” and refers them as an “epidemic of abuse and violence” – so “honour” is being accepted as the distinguishing feature in this case – not domestic violence as outlined by the police.

The Guardian though produces a piece on a charity supporting women at risk of forced marriage and “honour” crimes: because many charities including Refuge campaign against domestic violence as a whole when supporting victims of “sexual violence, forced marriage, honour-based violence, female genital mutilation, prostitution, trafficking and stalking”.

It is clear that no one would suggest that Shafilea’s case shouldn’t be discussed in a wider context or that “honour” isn’t used as an excuse for violence against women and men.

One could suggest, though, that this violence be discussed in a more rational manner: perhaps we would benefit from the UK taking a calmer, less emotionally-charged and academic approach to domestic violence rather than a knee-jerk response to “honour” killing.

If you look to the news now the discussion of “honour killing” has become white noise and – if you dare to look at comments on articles – is being used for further attacks on Islam: one could almost think all Muslim condoned violence against women.

Perhaps some journalists still lucky enough to be in paid employment could report more on the experiences and understanding of those dealing with domestic violence across all cultures on a daily basis; it could look to the nuclear family as a constant in domestic violence; investigate the links between mental ill-health, such as stress, and domestic violence; or consider the role of the patriarchy across many cultures when “honour” is used as justification for domestic violence.

Remember other excuses – accepted by UK police in confronting domestic violence – include football teams losing during Euro 2012 and the World Cup.

The video below made by Refuge – a charity providing safe houses – highlights how hidden domestic violence can be in the UK as women hide their bruises, take responsibility and make excuses for the damage done at the hands of their abusers.

We need to discuss domestic violence as an experience across cultures and classes. Isolated incidents – however horrific – are examples of domestic violence within families not of broken cultures.

Because domestic violence is a terrifying and very real problem for many people in our country which “transcends culture, class, race, and religion”.

Stay calm and stuff the Jubilee …

I went to town to see the Queen*. I could tell you, as the Daily Mail describes, that she looked “stylish in pastels” or I could gush that “Her Majesty and Prince Philip stepped off the royal train at Victoria Station to rapturous applause from more than 800 flag-waving fans

The reality, though, is I walked past Albert Square watching the people holding their camera phones aloft, and I couldn’t be bothered waiting for her to appear. The reality is also that it seemed of little interest to most Mancunians.

I won’t be allowed to miss out on the hysteria though because the Manchester Evening News promises a souvenir supplement on Saturday. The city is told with excitement that Queeny tucked in to “steak and venison pudding […] served with celeriac mash and buttered savoy cabbage” which was “as all being prepared, cooked and served by town hall staff.”

It sounds like a fine meal and in the glorious surroundings of Manchester Town Hall – built in the mid-1800s to brag about the city’s wealth rather than tackle the slums. I wonder, though, if any of the town hall staff serving up the grub are worrying about potential redundancy or whether they can afford their next meal.

I can see, of course, that Jubilee fever is intending to take our minds off mass unemployment, the destruction of the NHS and the fact that we fund her family’s existence as well as the bonuses for fat cat bosses in banks. It tried much the same in 1977: when firefighters went on strike over pay, there was an International Monetary Fund bail-out, an oil crisis, the Labour government faced a vote of no confidence by Liberals and the Queen wanted us flag-waving for her Silver Jubilee. I didn’t then and I won’t now.

The crowd outside Manchester Town Hall was small as I passed. I like to think that fellow Mancunians see no point in standing in the streets – sunny or not. One website run by journalism students states that HRH was welcomed by “thousands” adding, “hundreds of children, parents and celebrators waved flags”. It also reports on anti-monarchy protesters greeting the Queen.

I can honestly say when I passed it was more like dozens – even the cabbie said he was surprised by how few had turned out, especially considering the sun was shining on this rainy city for a change.

The city’s streets weren’t lined with flag-waving royalists when I walked them. In Albert Square I saw some tourists taking photos; workers having their lunch in the sun; students milling about before they go home to wherever and, of course, photographers up on a statue to ensure a clear view of Her Maj – not a cheering crowd wanting to catch a glimpse of a pastel-wearing parasite.

Because, whether she’s in pretty pastels or polka dots and purple, it’s hard not to resent the expensive tour of an unelected monarch visiting a city facing tough cuts, potentially shedding 50% more jobs than Tory councils and with an average wage of less than £2,000 as the cost of living soars.

It is also particularly upsetting when one considers that the Save the Children revealed in february that 27% of the city’s children live in severe poverty. Its campaign previously called on the Chancellor to Chancellor to announce an emergency plan in the next budget to channel new jobs into the poorest areas and increase financial support for low-income families.

It says that single parents and families are living on less than between £7,000 and  £12,500 a year. Meanwhile the Royals are given hundreds if thousands, according to the British Monarchy website. Even Prince Andrew receives £249,000 per annum.

*I didn’t actually go to see the Queen. I went to the People’s History Museum.

Could UK have Cameronvilles?

I’ve experienced homelessness. Now, as I find my benefits still suspended – meaning I have no Jobseekers’ Allowance, Housing Benefit or Council Tax Benefit – the panic is creeping in that I will experience homelessness again.

I’ve not been told why this suspension has happened beyond “loss of paperwork” but that was said in a phone call, leaving no paper trail, so I suspect either untrue or not the basis of a complaint for me.

I told the unemployment office that I had part-time work, I asked if I was within my rights to take it, I was told to keep signing on until I received my first wage – then my benefits were stopped and I was left with, literally, zero income. I checked my bank account this morning and I am penniless with my rent due in a week.

I’ve effectively been penalised for trying to find work. I would’ve been better off staying on benefits: I would still have my dole payment and still be filling in my Looking for Work booklet and going through a routine which meant I had money for food, bills and accommodation.

I never imagined while working for years as a journalist, while studying hard for all my qualifications, while trying to build some sort of financial stability for myself that I would, one day, be sitting at home panicking that I might not have one for much longer.

As a child I lived through a housing crisis and ended up in a squat in a derelict terraced house. This house was in the middle of a street of squats and became the subject of a BAFTA-winning documentary in which I can been seen dancing happily amid the chaos.

My moment as an early reality TV star didn’t leave a mark – I don’t think I even saw the documentary untiI I was much older – but the experience of homelessness certainly did. My fear of it can quickly lead to panic and depression: if you have no home, you have nothing as far as I’m concerned.

We were of course abused for being homeless: insulted by passers-by, bullied at school as the squatting movement came under attack from the national press – those without homes and income seen as having brought it upon themselves, as not taking personal responsibility for their financial hardship.

Now, some 35 years, later this social problem of too little housing, mass unemployment and increasing poverty is again a growing problem which is creating homelessness.

I watch the BBC news, my fists clenched in fear and anger, as I see Americans make tent cities having lost their jobs and their homes – but still desperately trying to cling to some sort of normality. Just like the Hoovervilles of the Great Depression these settlements are being found on empty land across the country.

Panorama writes, “Conditions are unhygienic. There are no toilets and electricity is only available in the one communal tent where the campers huddle around a wood stove for warmth in the heart of winter.

“Ice weighs down the roofs of tents, and rain regularly drips onto the sleeping campers’ faces.

“Tent cities have sprung up in and around at least 55 American cities – they represent the bleak reality of America’s poverty crisis.”

America is the richest country in the world but people are living in tents and “47 million Americans now live below the poverty line – the most in half a century”.

These people have lost their jobs and had their benefits cut by a brutal system that demands financial independence of individuals while failing to provide a way for them to achieve it – there are no jobs.

Conservative minister Maria Miller says that in the UK there is “no shortage of jobs” and rabid Tories cling to this lie to excuse a lack of compassion and to spread the blame to those of us slung on a scrapheap while the rich get richer.

The reality though is that in Lewisham 34 people chase every vacancy – with over 10,500 unemployed for 300 jobs available. In Hartlepool it’s 21 people chasing every vacancy. In Hackney it’s 22. While in South Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and the City of London it’s fewer than two people for every job vacancy.

Much like the US we find that no jobs followed by benefit suspensions – even for those who have made the effort to find work but failed – means abject poverty. People are cutting back on food and fuel bills to pay their mortgage or rent. And the government not only wants to cut the amount of Housing Benefit people receive but also want to raise the age at which single people become eligible to claim for a one-bedroom property to 35. It doesn’t take a genius to see where this could inevitably lead.

All this while there are no jobs to help people out of poverty: history repeats itself the first time as tragedy, the second as farce and I now hope I won’t get to experience being homeless again.

The Sun: Don’t take it personally …

Personal responsibility is apparently something we all have and we should think twice when making decisions – such as when we line up to buy food from supermarkets known to build on school playgrounds because they’re cheap; or when we give hard-earned money to utility companies who rip us off because we have to; and when we go to work for idiots because we’re not stinking rich.

I live in a world where I have to work to survive. I live in a country where newspapers are closing down almost weekly. I live in an economy that is failing and freelance contracts are as hard to find as Rupert Murdoch’s conscience. Somehow, though, I should take personal responsibility and refuse to work for a newspaper – any newspaper – with a right-wing agenda.

Personal responsibility, I’m told, means taking the moral high ground and turning down work for the greater good: being an NUJ activist wouldn’t be enough. Arguing with editors and coming up with creative alternatives to the knee-jerk right-wing news will not suffice. No, I have to go hungry, to refuse wages from a boss I don’t respect and a company I can’t stand.

Would you do the same? Do you work for a council making cuts? A company ripping off customers? A corporation taking advantage of others? A multi-billionaire who will survive no matter what you do?

Most of us do – and journalists are no different.

Calling for personal responsibility is in itself right wing: to blame workers – and demand a decision to starve rather than take a living wage – isn’t just romantic moralising, it isn’t just smug condemnation, it’s daft. It’s beyond ridiculous when journalists are compared to fascists.

Journalists are workers – some are also black, some gay, others are women, some are disabled, even those working on tabloids – and like all workers have to go where the work is and we too face discrimination when doing so.

This new rhetoric around personal responsibility simply shifts the blame from the powerful – from the owners of the work, the holders of the purse strings – to the workers.

We might be responsible for our own actions but we can only change things by taking responsibility as a whole – not by singling out individuals for condemnation: no matter how much better we feel about ourselves when doing so.

Perhaps individual workers could also be blamed for low pay; for accidents in the workplace; for not having a pension; for not having a job at all.

Maybe if we all take personal responsibility and stop being fat, curb our alcohol intake and don’t have chronic diseases we won’t need the NHS either.

I think I’d enjoy being able to choose not to buy in the cheapest supermarket, not to give my money to a corrupt energy company and not to work for a boss who is powerful enough to spread nasty opinions globally, but it’s not a choice I’ve ever had.

When right-wingers condemn those on benefits as scroungers they often do so claiming people should take personal responsibility and not rely on the state. The rhetoric of personal responsibility is not far removed from that of responsible capitalism – and neither looks to make life better for workers.

Those condemning News International journalists aren’t demanding personal responsibility – they’re just looking for individuals to be held responsible.