London-based journalists at broadcaster Iran International are embroiled in a battle over union recognition alongside threats from the Iranian regime.
The National Union of Journalists has been trying to secure trade union recognition with management since the start of the year as a campaign of intimidation from Iran against UK-based journalists at Iran International and BBC Persian continued.
The NUJ Emergency Committee said NUJ members at Iran International and their families have in recent months been “subjected to harassment and intimidation by the Iranian state, in its ongoing campaign to silence journalistic coverage of events in Iran and to undermine press freedom”.
The NUJ claimed that an “overwhelming majority” of the 140 journalists at Iran International are members, although it declined to share numbers, and said it had a thriving chapel there.
But earlier this month Iran International owners Volant Media signed a recognition deal instead with the British Association of Journalists, a much smaller union which mainly works with staff at the Mirror.
The NUJ has claimed that there were no BAJ members at the broadcaster when the deal was made and that a senior manager at Iran International has now been appointed a BAJ rep with pressure being put on staff to join.
A BAJ spokesperson told Press Gazette it now has 20 members at Iran International.
There are concerns of a “climate of fear” at the broadcaster as staff’s visas and right to stay in the UK are tied to their work.
If they return to Iran they could face danger from Iranian state officials who are making threats of action against them in London or harassing their families who are currently in Iran.
The broadcaster’s NUJ chapel wrote to BAJ asking it to withdraw its agreement, saying: “As a chapel of minority ethnic workers, our voice has been completely taken away from us by an organisation that pretends to stand up for workers.”
NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “Our members at Iran International have faced intimidation and harassment for their work as journalists – that their rights of freedom of association should be trampled on in this way is a grave injustice and one that the NUJ will do all it can to rectify.”
BAJ has since withdrawn from the sole recognition agreement it had made with the broadcaster.
A spokesperson told Press Gazette: “In the best interests of staff at Iran International, the BAJ has today (Thursday) issued formal notice of its withdrawal from a sole recognition agreement with Iran International with a view to negotiating a non-exclusive agreement with Volant, subject to the wishes of Iran International staff and our members.”
They added that BAJ will “continue to vigorously represent our members as we recognise they need our help and support”.
Jon Bamborough MBE, chairman of BAJ NEC, said: “The only thing that matters to us is our staff at Iran International.
“In recognition of the hardships they already face to report on the Iranian regime, and avoid them having to become further embroiled in an escalation of words from which no-one benefits, we are encouraging management to resume their negotiations with the NUJ and to ballot staff on their choice of union representation, as is their right.”
Stanistreet told Press Gazette today: “The BAJ’s decision to withdraw from their agreement is overdue but their ongoing role at the company remains in question.
“Our members have organised and worked for NUJ recognition, to attain a collective voice for a long time, and are in the formal process to achieve that. BAJ should step back and let that process conclude. The NUJ will take all steps to ensure that the rights of our members at Iran International, protected under Article 11, are fully respected.”
Journalists from the joint chapel for NUJ’s Reach national titles, where BAJ also has a presence, shared their concerns that these dealings could put Iran International journalists at risk.
In a statement, they sent a message of solidarity and said: “We know that the NUJ has been working for two years to support Iran International journalists who have faced harassment and threats to their families in Iran.
“Our fear is that by doing the bosses’ bidding, BAJ will endanger and undermine those journalists.”
Support for the NUJ has come from an Early Day Motion tabled in Parliament by ex-Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and Labour peer and labour law expert Lord Hendy who lodged a complaint with the International Labour Organisation.