Twenty-five years after Rupert Murdoch derecognised trade unions at News International, a newly created NUJ chapel is seeking legal action against parent company News Corporation in Wapping.
The magazine of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) reported this week that a number of “brave journalists” had set up a union chapel at the newspaper publishing division’s headquarters after a large stack of documentation from Sun reporters was handed over to the police as part of an investigation into corrupt payments.
Journalists fear that the documents, which include confidential emails, articles and transcripts of internal meetings, will identify legitimate sources to the police and may lead to whistleblowers being identified.
As a response to what Sun reporters see as an attack on professional standards and press freedom, the chapel are seeking an injunction against parent company News Corporation to stop its Management and Standards Committee (MSC) from passing on any further information.
Three Times journalists, who have been in contact with colleagues at the Sun, have agreed to be named on the injunction, and a meeting of all NUJ members at News International is being planned, the NUJ publication reports.
NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet wrote in the same issue that the union had been flooded with calls from sources who had passed on information to News International journalists, fearing arrest and losing their jobs.
Stanistreet told EastLondonLines: “If you had to think of the one overriding responsibility of any journalist – a core principle enshrined in the NUJ’s Code of Conduct – it would be the protection of sources. It’s a vital aspect of a free press – that whistleblowers and sources need to be able to come forward and share information they believe the public should know about, in the certain knowledge that their identifies will be protected.”
The MSC had been set up by News Corp to ensure cooperation with investigations into phone hacking and corrupt payments in the wake of the scandal that led to the closure of the News of the World in July last year.
Journalists at News International are represented by the management-backed News International Staff Association (NISA). In February, Stanistreet wrote on the blog of Neville Thurlbeck, former news editor at the News of the World, that NISA was “set up by Murdoch as a union-busting move to legally block the NUJ from seeking recognition” and that “the organisation is not capable of providing journalists with independent representation and genuine protection.”
NISA was created during the Wapping dispute of 1986, when Murdoch sacked 6,000 workers and withdrew workers’ recognition from their unions in a move from Fleet Street to Wapping. The dispute is widely regarded as turning point in the history of British trade unionism and industrial relations.
Since the start of Operation Elveden, the Met’s investigation into corrupt payments to police officers and public officials, 12 current and former Sun journalists have been arrested.
News Corp Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch and his son James, who stood down as chairman of BSkyB earlier this month, will give evidence to the Leveson inquiry next week.
The Leveson inquiry was set up in the wake of the News of the World phone hacking scandal and is investigating the culture, practices and ethics of the press.