Bristol initiative leads to national NUJ terror guidelines

By Tony Gosling

NEW laws which have increased police powers since the ‘War On Terrorism’ began in 2001 can compromise the public’s right to a balanced version of events.

Add to this the increasing use by media managers of cheaper, less experienced writers to cover of major terrorist incidents and journalists’ professional standards are bound to slip.

So, in an initiative started by Tony Gosling, a Bristol member of the NUJ’s national Ethics Council, the union has been working with the Campaign Against Criminalising Communities to discuss omissions and inaccuracies in media coverage of ‘terror incidents’ in order to develop Guidelines To Reporting Terrorism.

Journalists do their best to provide balanced coverage of often chaotic major incidents. The Ethics Council found that police statements were usually unverifiable, yet journalists have little choice but to report them.

The council also found that evidence regularly emerges after the event that contradicts or even disproves police statements made in the heat of the moment. When these facts trickle out they often do not attract the same attention as the original story – leaving readers, viewers and listeners potentially misinformed.

The council also found that, on average, only one in five of those held in terror raids is ever charged and only one in 20 convicted. Yet innocent families are forced to live with the consequences of being accused for life.

The guidelines were launched in November 2009 at the NUJ’s Annual Delegate Meeting in Southport. A fringe meeting was addressed by former detainees who, though innocent, had been stigmatised by the coverage of the raids in which they were held and the unfair accusations levelled at them.

The meeting also heard by telephone from one man living under virtual house arrest under an official control order. The case against him was not held in public in the interests of national security. Known only as  Detainee Y, he said, “I am in complete and utter isolation. It’s so physically and psychologically punishing.”

Arjum Wajid, a member of the NUJ Ethics Council, said: “There are people in this country who have been in prisons for a very long time without ever being charged at all. Despite all demonstrations these people still continue to be subjects of these laws.”

An audibly frightened Detainee Y said: “I’m being tortured in this country. I feel I’m living like a ghost. I have less rights than animals and am being abused by justice. My life is unbearable. Please help me.”

Families and minority communities can be plunged into shock by the power of the police and security services to make unfounded accusations. The NUJ’s Guide To Reporting Terrorism goes some way to ensuring that journlists covering such stories go equipped not to simply pass on the police’s version of events, but to deliver a balanced report.

Reporting Terrorism: NUJ Ethics Council guidelines

http://www.nuj.org.uk/innerPagenuj.html?docid=1445

Campaign Against Criminalising Communities

http://www.campacc.org.uk/

ADM Blog article on Guidelines launch

http://www.nujadm.org.uk/comment/features/suspected-terrorist-tells-of-his-terror/

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  1. […] to a story on the Bristol NUJ website, Tony Gosling, has been appointed to the NUJ’s National Ethics […]

    Bristol NUJ responds:

    Tony Gosling is a member of Bristol NUJ. He is a delegate to the union’s Ethics Council, representing New Media members.

    He was not ‘engaged by the NUJ … to write a manual’. He was party to extensive discussions within the Council which led to the development of guidance for journalists covering ‘terrorism’. He was not the author of the guidelines which seek only to ensure that stories are fairly and accurately reported.

    NUJ policy is determined by democratic means, not by the personal views of any one individual.

  2. I suppose your explanation above is meant to clarify things. I’m not sure that it does. You must have realised that this is how you put Mr Gosling’s involvement:

    “So, in an initiative started by Tony Gosling, a Bristol member of the NUJ’s national Ethics Council, the union has been working with the Campaign Against Criminalising Communities to discuss omissions and inaccuracies in media coverage of ‘terror incidents’ in order to develop Guidelines To Reporting Terrorism.”

    A hint as to why Harry’s Place, and from there, my blog, got the impression that Mr Gosling was more than just a “party”. As far as many of us are concerened it is the press which are responsible for omissions and inaccuracies in media coverage of terror incidents. (No need for the use of inverted commas, btw. There are such things as terror incidents. They are not “so-called”.)

    Bristol NUJ responds:

    “There’s no contradiction here. Tony Gosling initiated the process of writing the guidelines and was part of the discussions which followed. He wasn’t the author of the final draft.

    “Of course there are real terror incidents. There are also so-called “terror incidents” which are reported as such in good faith, but which turn out later to have been nothing of the kind. That’s why the Guidelines To Reporting Terrorism were drawn up.”

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