Guardian

The NUJ’s Code of Practice and CiF


A little while ago I emailed the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and asked whether their Code of Conduct (reproduced in part below) applied equally to the editors responsible for and authors of threads on blogs.  I did so after a succession of CiF articles which inspired some of the most antisemitic and hate-filled below-the-line responses I have ever seen on CiF.   I have had no reply from the NUJ.

During my search for information, I also found out that the NUJ is quite a secretive organisation, in that one has to be a member of it in order to find out which other journalists are members.   Not being so privileged, of course, I could not find out whether Georgina Henry, Brian Whitaker or Matt Seaton are members either.

When I got to the NUJ’s web page I found its Code of Conduct, part of which I reproduce below.

It is highly likely that the NUJ did not think up and publish its Code of Conduct merely because it wanted to look nice, and that there exists some mechanism within its framework to reprimand or at least call to order journalists who bring their Union into disrepute.  The web page tells us that the NUJ has an Ethics Council but, like its list of members, one can find out who sits on this Ethics Council only if one is a member of the NUJ.

It is also highly likely that Georgina Henry, Brian Whitaker and Matt Seaton are all members of the NUJ.  In order to join they would have had to do exactly what the preamble to the Code of Conduct says and signed that they would “strive to adhere to it.”   Even if they are not NUJ members, the Code should, in theory at least, be a standard to which they should all aspire.

However (assuming that they are paid up members of the NUJ) one would be right to question whether Henry, Whitaker and Seaton have “striven” particularly hard or even at all.   CiF Watch has documented on many occasions the depths to which Henry and her team have sunk in their hatred of Israel and their permitting anti-Jewish racism to remain beneath CiF articles.   Pro-Israel authors have been viciously attacked and, as is usual for CiF, posts in support of them have often been deleted whilst the crude and insulting comments from Israel/Jew-haters is allowed to remain for all to see.

A closer examination of some of the relevant points of the NUJ’s Code of Conduct is therefore called for, and it will be seen that these are more often honoured in the breach than in the observance as regards the Guardian and CiF.  The full Code of Ethics may be found at the link above.  My own comments are in italics after the points):

“A journalist:

  • Strives to ensure that information disseminated is honestly conveyed, accurate and fair  (CiF has come to grief already.  The Editors are hardly fair to those who are pro-Israel, and the information they convey is often dishonest and/or inaccurate).
  • Does her/his utmost to correct harmful inaccuracies  (This gets worse and worse.  Not only does CiF not correct harmful inaccuracies, it deliberately perpetuates them)
  • Differentiates between fact and opinion.  (CiF presents misguided and hate-filled opinion about Israel as fact and so often that it seems to have lost touch with the distinction between them.  The editorial team has even commissioned Hamas terrorist leaders to write for CiF and these are hardly renowned for their dispassionate analysis of matters Middle Eastern).
  • Obtains material by honest, straightforward and open means, with the exception of investigations that are both overwhelmingly in the public interest and which involve evidence that cannot be obtained by straightforward means   (What on earth is meant by “cannot be obtained by straightforward means?” And who decides what is “overwhelmingly in the public interest” and how?)
  • Does nothing to intrude into anybody’s private life, grief or distress unless justified by overriding consideration of the public interest   (How many times has CiF intruded into the private lives or grief of Palestinians, (including during after Cast Lead) in order to get material which tugs at the heartstrings?  To what extent can that intrusion be motivated by “consideration of the public interest”)?
  • Resists threats or any other inducements to influence, distort or suppress information.  (This is an interesting one, particularly the reference to inducements.  Perhaps CiF does not need them.  Perhaps Henry et al believe that they are performing a public service. CiF is already the master of distortion of information about Israel and suppressed a great deal of information about Hamas’ barbarity in Cast Lead, if one goes by the number of articles and column inches devoted to that).
  • Produces no material likely to lead to hatred or discrimination on the grounds of a person’s age, gender, race, colour, creed, legal status, disability, marital status, or sexual orientation  (A resounding failure to abide by the Code of Conduct here.  CiF quite openly and deliberately discriminates against Israel, and, by allowing the monotonous repetition of the same egregious tropes by its commentariat, it manipulates public opinion so as to exacerbate anti-Jewish racism and hatred.  This is its raison d’être).
  • The NUJ believes a journalist has the right to refuse an assignment or be identified as the author of editorial that would break the letter or spirit of the code. The NUJ will fully support any journalist disciplined for asserting her/his right to act according to the code. (Question:  Have any of the CiF editors or writers refused assignments in respect of Israel which would “break the letter or the spirit of the code?”)

 I searched in vain on the web page for an address to which to write to complain to the NUJ about these infringements of its Code of Conduct by the CiF Editors who I believe are members of the NUJ.

However, another Google search did throw up a useful if disconcerting piece of information – that the NUJ itself tried to boycott Israeli goods in 2007 after the Lebanon war, although The Guardian, curiously enough, disagreed with the boycott.  The NUJ came in for a lot of criticism and abandoned that strategy, only to try to revive it once more after Cast Lead.

Of course it is entirely possible that the three CiF Editors are not members of the NUJ and they are therefore not bound by the NUJ’s Code of Conduct.  However if they were to offer that as an excuse for their reprehensible behaviour and lamentable dereliction of duty, they would be little better than the Labour Party politicians whom CiF has recently been so quick to criticise.    The analogy could be rightfully made, that ignorance about what is morally acceptable and ethical in blog journalism is no excuse for not trying to behave ethically and engage with their subject in a morally acceptable way.  Perhaps Henry, Whitaker and Seaton have no idea how to go about that.

18 replies »

  1. Several points of interest here, but I was particularly interested in the role of the NUJ in the anti-Israel boycott in 2007. I noted the apathy of the NUJ as reflected in the numbers who actually participated in the vote – 66 votes in favour and 54 against, according to what I found at the link – but look at the Guardian’s rationale for being against it then:

    “..There are a number of reasons why the NUJ boycott motion was misguided – and the exceptionalism of focusing on Israel and its foreign policy is certainly one of them. But there are equally troubling editorial aspects to a motion which strays beyond the reasonable and traditional concerns of a journalists’ union. All reporters covering the Israel-Palestine story know that every single word they write will be weighed and scrutinised by both sides for fairness, balance, accuracy, sourcing and general integrity…”

    I rubbed my eyes at this. Look at the reference to the “….. exceptionalism of focusing on Israel and its foreign policies…” and the “….. equally troubling editorial aspects to a motion which strays beyond the reasonable….” and paritcularly that “…All reporters covering the Israel-Palestine story know that every single word they write will be weighed and scrutinised by both sides for fairness, balance, accuracy, sourcing and general integrity…”

    Can this be the very same Guardian which took a fortnight to counter the lies that there had been a massacre at Jenin? Can this be the same Guardian which at the very same time this article was published was engaged in running a blog which routinely demonises and delegitimises Israel and subjects it to double standards?

    Could it be that the Guardian wanted a bigger vote in order to make the boycott decision more rigorous and able to be acted upon? Given its single minded obsessive focus on Israel’s wrongs, real or imaginary, I know what I am inclined to believe.

    Or perhaps the Guardian and CiF that we see is in some sort of parallel universe.

  2. The most recent editorial in the Guardian regarding Israel called for the world community to put “relentless pressure” on Israel. As for Syria, the Guardian’s editorial writers felt that no pressure was in order. It was fine with the Guardian’s stable of writers that the Assad dictatorship funnel hundreds of millions of dollars in advanced Iranian weaponry to Hezbollah in total disregard of UN resolutions. It was fine with the Guardian’s editorial writers that Syrian intelligence agencies plotted and carried out the murder of Fouad Hariri and that the Syrians blocked a UN investigation. It was fine with Guardian’s editors that witnesses who could inculpate Syrian agents in the murder of Hariri were suddenly killed. The Guardian’s editors had not one word about “relentless pressure” being put on Hamas. And it was fine with the Guardian if Hassan Nasrallah turned Lebanon into a medieval kingdom of death. If Israel were not known as “The Jewish State”, there is no way that the editors of the Guardian and men like Tony Lerman and Brian Whittaker would take such an obsessive and fevered interest in demonizing Israel. For Lerman, it is the IDF that obsesses him. The very notion of Jews being able to defend themselves angers Lerman to no end.

  3. Medusa – another example of duplicity at the “Daily Hypocrite” nad, sadly, it would seem, they are being protected by their pals at the NUJ.

    However, CW’s increasing popularity and the stunning revelations of misdeeds. nepotism, mismanagement, financial ruin, and anti-Semitism it is reporting at the “Daily Hypocrite” are having a great effect at drawing attention to these peoples’ agenda, style, and general loathsomeness.

  4. I have no doubt that you are correct, AKUS, but the NUJ’s secrecy means that ordinary members of the public – who are not pro-Israeli or Jewish but who are offended by what passes for the Guardian’s objectivity and remember it when it was a quality paper – are probably not able to complain either!

    Chas N-B thank you for the link. I am not in the least surprised at its content. Someone I know left the NUJ having come up against this narrow-minded bigotry. This person is probably a socialist but couldn’t stand the infiltration of the union by the loony left and what ensued because of that.

    As I have written in the article, my best guess is that the CiF Editors are members of the union. I would dearly like to know – and so far all my enquiries have been dead ends – about how they think their Code of Conduct applies to blogs.

  5. This is very apposite:

    “Responsible Journalism: Let the buyer beware

    Barbara Sofer

    “JERUSALEM – The warmth, openness and seeming naiveté of sources in the Middle East often confound reporters in our region. So many people seem ready and eager to talk that it’s easy to believe you’ve happened upon a fresh and authentic source of information. Let us never forget that there is no such thing as a disinterested party in the Middle East. Whether you’re being guided through a dazzling bazaar fragrant with cinnamon and coriander, or through a malodorous open sewer, someone is trying to sell you a story. Let the buyer beware.

    “For example, I’m having coffee in Jerusalem with a Palestinian who has been involved in the launching of the first film festival in a West Bank city. The idea of the festival is very appealing to me. It’s a sign of burgeoning normality and sophistication. If Thomas Friedman has taught us that having a McDonald’s in your country is a sign that you’re moving towards a peaceful lifestyle, then certainly holding a film festival demonstrates a more nuanced view of the world.

    “Sadly, it turns out that the film festival opening was a disaster. The audience was assembled, the films were ready to go, but the computerised projector didn’t work.

    “I’m already bracing myself. How is the linchpin of this story going to be that the failure was Israel’s fault? I don’t have to wait long. My Palestinian interlocutor shakes his head in despair. The projector’s malfunction was an intentional Zionist sabotage of the evening. He relates a travelogue of the projector’s winding journey through foreign ports and its ultimate delay by customs so that it would arrive “too late to be checked”. He’s clearly trying to sell me a story about the evils of Israel.

    “But I’m wondering how late that projector actually arrived. Certainly faulty machinery – discovered even a few hours before – could have been replaced with one from a sympathetic Israeli cinema.

    ” ‘ Hadn’t anyone tried it ahead of time?’ I ask.

    “‘ I guess not,’ ” he shrugs.

    “To him, the failure will always be caused by Israeli malevolence. From my Israeli point of view, it seems like Palestinian incompetence.

    “How does a journalist report this story?

    “She could describe the excitement of the crowd, the disappointment, the suspicion among those present that this is another Israeli plot, and then get a token denial from an Israeli official. Or, determined to justify Israel, she could launch into an investigation to debunk the charges. Perhaps the projector was indeed held up in customs, for either security reasons, because a tax was owed, or just plain inefficiency. Probably, facts will be eclipsed by opinions. Personally, I’m sceptical that a country which produces so many self-critical films would make an effort to kybosh a West Bank cultural event. But then, I tend to think well of Israel.

    “In the final analysis, the story told will wind up being more a reflection of attitude than fact. In this, we reporters can be equally culpable.

    “Many reporters pick up local attitudes or are influenced by the prevalent buzz of the press corps. Someone like me, with a strong pride in her country and unembarrassed Zionist ideology has to be careful not to accept at face value stories of my own people’s heroism or victimisation.

    “Interviewees with an agenda are always guessing what a reporter wants to hear. I once received a tearful phone call from a young woman who complained about a Palestinian handyman in her dormitory. She said that the school was more concerned with political correctness than with protecting students from danger. The student’s distress was genuine and indeed the school was liberal in its hiring policy. But the truth ended there. She was counting on both my political and feminist sympathies to convince me of the worthiness of her complaint. The man she was accusing of inappropriate behaviour turned out to be a highly respected and responsible employee. Coming from abroad, either she had mistaken the cultural clues and his avuncular nature as intrusive and threatening or she was trying to remove Arab workers from her dorm.

    “We reporters need to be conscious of our own prejudices and sympathies as well as the desires of those we interview to energetically promote their personal causes. A good knowledge of the region, common sense and a fair measure of scepticism are valuable antidotes to falling for a slanted story. It’s far worse than buying a street corner wristwatch that fails immediately after purchase. A damaging story can tick on forever.”

    * Barbara Sofer writes magazine and newspaper articles, fiction and scripts for the short films she directs and produces. She is an Orthodox Jew, a feminist, a passionate speaker about Judaism, women’s lives and Israel, and one of three recipients of the 2008 Eliav-Sartawi Award for Middle East Journalism. Barbara Sofer may be reached at: bsofer@netvision.net.il and http://www.barbarasofer.com. This article is part of a special series on responsible journalism in the Arab-Israeli conflict written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews). at http://www.commongroundnews.org

  6. This organisation, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), does seem to have all the attributes of an organisation formed ostensibly to maintain standards of objectivity and fairness in journalists while in fact, it is a buffer against the public who complain about journalists who are blatantly unfair and biased.

    It sets out a list of ‘standards’ which, on the face of it, seem to require maintaining a healthy press while in fact, it is a smotherer of genuine complaint.

    It so reminds me of CI(F) ‘moderation policy’.

  7. I’m not sure if this is the right place for it,This was on Haaretz, 13/11/09
    “UK scouts shouted anti-semitic abuse at Jewish WW2 Veterans.

    According to the report,the Explorer scouts, who were taking part in Remembrance Sunday service in Romford, Essex who were heard to repeatedly shout “Lets kill the Jews” at the former soldiers.

    This from boy scouts,Britain is slowly but surely being flushed down the toilet

  8. The NUJ is really a protection racket isn’t it?

    It should be allowed to publish a “Code of Practice” (which is in effect window dressing and a gross misrepresentation) since it cannot enforce it, nor can it take action against anyone who infringes it. As you say, JersualemMite, it’s there to mollify and keep the public sweet rather than to protect the good name of the “profession.”

    This is totally different from other professional regulatory bodies, such as the General Medical Council, the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and the British Psychological Society, which exist to protect the public from unscrupulous and unethical practitioners. Be proven to have infringed their regulations and you are slung out of the organisation.

    The only recourse for people who feel aggrieved by newspaper coverage (although I am not sure whether this applies in respect of the rubbish put out by blogs like Stormfront and CiF) is to complain to the Press Complaints Commission, but I have real doubts about their capability or objectivity too.

  9. Their code may indeed exist to look nice. Some years ago the Guardian published an article claiming that anybody who didn’t support the openly genocidal & ex-Nazi Moslem leader of Bosnia was guilty of “a mutated kind of anti-semitism”. The PCC decided that this was, while a lie, protected under the opinion rules which said that so long as something is clearly labeled opinion it is ok. I pointed out that the article carried no such labe. Thet said tough.

    The NUJ’s refusal to answer letters suggests they adhere to the same practices.

  10. MITNAGED you make interesting points about the smoke and mirrors aspect of the “professional” status of journalists who belong to the NUJ.

    Whereas I very much doubt that their members in general are fundamentally dishonest in their representation of what they see, Medusa’s article raises interesting questions for me in the light of the information in Barbara Sofer’s article, quoted above, such as:

    Is there in fact a “gold standard” for ethical journalism (or blog articles)?

    What mechanism is there to complain about the offensive or incitatory in newspaper or blog articles – other than to the PCC in the UK, which I don’t really trust to be objective either.

    For me the examples of the truly egregious and the absolute nadir of reportage are those of John Pilger on CiF at

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/jul/02/israelandthepalestinians.civilliberties

    (I imagine the coven had to have its collective arm twisted almost to breaking point for them to print the retraction there)

    And there is also the not-so-little matter of his reporting the “massacre” at Jenin which turned out not to have been any such thing.

  11. The Guardian will continue to publish its anti-Semitic CIF section regardless of what the toothless journalism association says. Anti-Semitism is the Guardian’s bread and butter. It caters to anti-Semites who are its only source of readers left.

  12. JubelFoster and others – do you not think that journalists should be held to account for the inciteful rubbish they write, particularly when it has the potential to crank up hatred? I am sure that Pilger’s articles did that.

    Given that the NUJ, for all its nice “Code of Conduct” is a toothless tiger, and the Press Complaints Commission is almost as useless in preventing abuses of fact, what do you recommend instead rather than just the equivalent of voting with one’s feet?

    Even if one does that the poisonous lies are still there in print.

  13. Neilfutureboy, I believe you have hit the nail on the head here:

    “…The PCC decided that this was, while a lie, protected under the opinion rules which said that so long as something is clearly labeled opinion it is ok….

    You then went on to say that the article with which you had taken issue had not been so labeled.

    So, people, should we be pressuring The Guardian into flagging up very clearly in print when CiF articles are opinions rather than facts?

  14. Medusa

    Excellent article. While the Guardian may not have supported the boycott approved by the British Union of Journalist (how would that look even to a partisan paper like the Guardian?), enough of the writers penning stories in the Guardian support BDS against Israel that the Guardian, in my opinion, holds the issue of a boycott like a gun to the head of Israel in their “campaign” to isolate Israel internationally. No doubt, they will support a boycott if necessary in the future.

  15. MITNAGED, thanks for the article from Barbara Sofer. As is so often the way of these things, I had been reading the article at:

    http://www.thejc.com/news/world-news/21653/swedish-journalist-defends-organ-blood-libel-israel

    Note particularly:

    ‘…Asked at the conference why he [ie Bostrom] had accused the IDF of killing Palestinians for their organs, he replied: “I never wrote that and didn’t claim that IDF soldiers killed Palestinians to harvest their organs. I wrote that Palestinian families are claiming that is the case.”

    ‘He accused the media of distorting his report and accusing him of antisemitism for political purposes…’

    But whether he was conscious of it or not, Bostrom bought heavily into the antisemitic blood libel trope.