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  1. Media Law
November 6, 2012

NUJ faces backlash over support for statutory independent press regulator

By Andrew Pugh

Press Gazette’s report on the NUJ’s support for statutory-underpinned press regulation provoked a heated response on Twitter yesterday with widespread concerns raised about the stance.

Today the union was also attacked in a Sun editorial in which the paper said it was “dumbfounded by the chilling decision of a union in our own trade to back Stalinist-style state regulation of newspapers”.

The paper accused the union of surrendering “centuries of hard-won press freedom for government control of the press”, claiming the UK would “end up like Russia, Zimbabwe and Iran, with state stooges and politicians deciding what can or can’t be printed in your Sun”.

Many journalists, yesterday took to Twitter to question the union’s position:

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Much of the anger was directed at the apparent lack of consultation with members over the decision:

One NUJ member, Christina Wallis (@xtinewallis), said she had spoken to 22 fellow NUJ members and that "not one knew anything about it", adding: "Against everything journalism stands for. Furious." Wallis later claimed to have cancelled her membership.

Press Gazette ran a poll asking journalists what they thought about the NUJ's decision in which 66 per cent of those polled said they disagreed with the decision. But the poll itself was dismissed by several journalists who support the NUJ leadership position:

At one point Press Gazette was accused of being responsible for journalists cancelling their membership:

In its defence, the NUJ insists that it did consult with members. NUJ president Donnacha DeLong quoted from NUJ active emails sent out to members between November 2011 to January 2012:

The emails do not, however, appear to reference the fact the NUJ was considering support for statutory underpinning. Nor were members specifically balloted on this issue.

The NUJ's ethics chief Chris Frost today defends the NUJ position arguing that statutory regulation "allows parliament (democratically elected) to decide the extent of regulation, but leaves it to an independent regulator to enforce it with statutory authority to apply its code to publishers of a certain size".

And in another guest blog on Press Gazette, former Hacked Off co-ordinator Thais Portilho-Shrimpton insists the stance adopted by Hacked Off and the NUJ supporting an independent statutory press regulator has been misreported. She says: "This body would be created – just its existence set up by statute. The only thing the law will do is say 'this body now exists and its structure looks like this, and it has the power to investigate newspapers when appropriate'."

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