Monday, September 24, 2007

NEC unites around Drogheda and addresses photographers' fears

Eight and a half hours of debate, discussion, a few laughs and a few raised voices - it's got to be the National Executive Council.

Meeting on Friday the NEC had a packed agenda - central to it the recent controversy over the signing of an agreement at the Drogheda Independent. The agreement has raised fears among some photogrpahers that the union is turning its back on skilled photography simply in favour of reporters carrying cameras. The NEC was clear - it is not true. By 20 votes to 0 NEC members representing people from every sector and geographical area of the union backed the following motion proposed by President Michelle Stanistreet:

"NEC notes the decision taken by the Emergency Committee on 2 August 2007 in regard to the Drogheda Independent agreement. It reiterates the Committee’s complete confidence in all the full-time and chapel officials involved in negotiating the agreement.

NEC acknowledges the fears raised by some members and branches regarding the potential implications of the agreement, in particular on the livelihood of photographers.

NEC welcomes the public commitment of the Chapel, in line with NUJ policy, to protecting the rights of freelances and staff working for the title and assures the Chapel and freelances of the full support of the union in attempts to stop the company introducing measures which undermine the professionalism or terms and conditions at the papers.

The NEC acknowledges the particular circumstances – including the withdrawal of the company from the RNAI and consequent threat to pay and conditions and pensions - of the Drogheda Independent which gave rise to the agreement. It is not intended that Clause 6.1 in its entirety should be considered a model clause. The NEC urges the Commission on Multimedia working to develop a model clause for use in future negotiations taking in to account best practice.

NEC recognises the central role of Chapels in negotiating local agreements and reaffirms the need to ensure new working practices are consistent with the NUJ Code of Working Practices.

The NEC reaffirms the union’s commitment to protecting and advancing the interests of all its members. NEC believes that industrial strength and solidarity between staff and freelances are the key means to protect jobs and terms and conditions for all.

NEC resolves to:
· Carry out a survey on the extent of multi-skilling across the UK and Ireland media industry.
· Organise in conjunction with the Commission on Multi-Media Working, a discussion at ADM on the issue of multi-skilling and defending professional standards in light of the development of new technologies".

A second resolution was also passed:
"The NEC notes that Clause 6.1 of the Drogheda Independent Agreement seeks to ensure that the NUJ will have a direct role in the implementation of new work practices governing the use of digital cameras by reporters. NEC affirms that any model agreement must recognise the vulnerable position of professional photographers in the emerging media landscape."

It's clear that there are many good things about the Drogheda Agreement but there are also some genuinely held fears that it will lead to photographers being kicked out of work and replaced by unskilled professionals. Supporters of the agreement say it won't mean that, opponents say it will. I don't believe it will and I don't believe the union could stand by if any employer tried to do that.

What became clear in the discussion is that all over the place new technology is being introduced and working practices are changing - in some places we have been strong enough to insist it is done on our terms, in some others we have been too weak to have any impact, in the vast majority of cases we have reached a compromise agreement. The reality is that unless we build our industrial strength - both staff and freelances working together - we will not be in a position to secure jobs and terms and conditions no matter how great the model clauses our Multimedia Commission comes up with.

We must use the Drogheda episode to learn that lesson.


Anonymous said...

You wrote - It is not intended that Clause 6.1 in its entirety should be considered a model clause. The NEC urges the Commission on Multimedia working to develop a model clause for use in future negotiations taking in to account best practice.

Thank you for your clarification that clause 6.1 will not be used in negotiations with the Kerryman and the People Newspaper Group. As a photographer working in the People newspaper group region I look forward to reading the proposed amended Model clause well before any deal is agreed.


Alan Murphy
NUJ Member - Wicklow

Anonymous said...

The usual "Daddy knows best" rubbish from the NUJ.

This is the thin end of the wedge, and the pathetic argument that the advance of technology cannot be stopped entirely misses the point.

It doesn't matter how good the technology, untrained photographers make bad photographers. Regional papers have rapidly replaced interesting, communicative photography with cheap labour rubbish. Group shots abound and quality has slumped. The Drogheda deal will be seen by publishers as another way to accelerate the drive to the bottom of the barrel.

And when reporters are sick and tired of struggling to handle digital images as well as doing their own jobs, they'll soon find they're being replaced by free word and image content from citizen journalists.

Where will the march of technology leave the NUJ and its members then?

Wake up and smell the coffee for heaven's sake!

Tim Gander
Freelance photographer and soon to be former NUJ member.

Anonymous said...

Dear Jeremy,

You talk about the importance of freelances and staff working together. That's all well and good, but too late now regarding the Drogheda Independent and now we learn other newspapers too in Ireland.

You make no mention of the fact that the main photographer at the DI has already been replaced by a non-NUJ inexperienced and previously amateur photographer. No mention of the lack of consultation during the negotiation process. No mention that the agreement is not just limited to the Drogheda Independent but we now learn to various other papers across Ireland.

Had there been any mention of these other papers in the agreement previously? Had the Irish Secretary Seamus Dooley previously mentioned them? Not that I can find. How can these titles have been involved without this being mentioned before to anyone including the IEC?

And how can we have full confidence in "all the full-time and chapel officials involved in negotiating the agreement" who went about negotiations on clauses such as 6.1 with such a lack of consultation until the last couple of weeks? I for one do not.

You also leave out the fact that the motion having full confidence in "all the full-time and chapel officials involved in negotiating the agreement." was not passed unanimously, but that there were 2 abstentions. Saying it was passed by 20 votes to 0 does not give a complete picture.

And the NEC was not united over whether the minutes of the Emergency Committee were accurate. And the NEC could be described as split over the conduct of the Emergency Committee in barring members and officials from some of the meeting. Thankfully the NEC did vote by a majority to assert the right of all members to attend all NUJ meetings.

I agree we should build our industrial strength by freelances and staff members of the union working together. But freelances were not given the chance to work with staff on the Drogheda agreement. Freelances there have had no pay increase and now have even less security for their photographic work which can now be done by reporters.

You have not addressed all my fears as either a photographer or an NUJ member. The lessons we most need to learn from Drogheda are consultation and democracy for all members within our union.

Simon Chapman
Freelance photographer and NUJ member

Andrew Wiard said...

As already noted, new technology had nothing to do with giving reporters cameras - automatic cameras have been available for decades. This was all about double-jobbing - two for the price of one. While it is reassuring that Drogehd will not now be the NUJ's model for the future, the NEC's decision that it "reiterates the Committee’s complete confidence in all the full-time and chapel officials involved in negotiating the agreement" is incomprehensible. The Drogheda deal has been signed. Double-jobbing now rules in Drogheda. One NUJ freelance photographer has left in disgust, to be replaced by - wait for it - a non-union amateur! The NEC has a long way to go before restoring photographers' confidence in the NUJ.

Andrew Wiard

Anonymous said...


Thanks for your efforts at the recent NEC. As a freelance photographer and branch 'grunt', I think the result was about as good as we could hope for, given the 'need' to try and save face for the powerful few, both full timers and NEC emergency committee members, who appear to have cocked-up so badly over both the Drogheda Independent agreement and the shameful way it was blustered through.

The issues around Drogheda, and the discussions that took place around the time of the closure of the NUJPhoto email list, suggest that there is sufficient disquiet, among a wide range of NUJ members to justify raising the uncomfortable question of whether the NUJ, as it now stands, is 'fit for purpose'.

There are many photographers who might answer 'no' to that question, along with, apparently, many members in Ireland (particularly freelances).

What about having some sort of survey of members, posted out with the Journalist and/or hosted online, that asks the really awkward questions, and invites comments from members about how the NUJ might be improved? (Please, no sanitised, fluffy bunny PR stuff for this - proper, searching questions are what’s needed).

There must be some significance that the most active part of the message board is the thread where people are debating Drogheda - ie, where they are saying what’s wrong and suggesting ways of fixing it.

Can we do this type of survey? Would the NEC support this sort of thing, or would some people find it just too threatening?

Kind regards

John Jones
Multi-skilled NUJ snapper (80%) and magazine writer (20%)

Anonymous said...

I firmly believe that the NUJ has the capability of being a powerful force working on behalf of Photographers, freelances and all its members. The emphasis is on us as members to ensure that the Union is steered to putting its resources into the right areas, and defending all its members to their best advantage.

The root of a lot of the problems surrounding both this particular case and the union – member relationship in general (including but not exclusive to photographers) is the issue of communication. The union has got a lot better in the past year or so with the introduction of sector newsletters, the ‘Informed’ bulletin etc.

Despite the attempts to meet the criticism, the unions’ hierarchy still don’t seem to actually understand the problem. In Drogheda for instance, the Irish officials insist that they had full consultation with all members involved – yep all chapel members. Photographers were only consulted in a knee jerk reaction after it was perceived that photographers were criticising officials for excluding them. By the time a meeting actually took place at least one Irish Official had been explaining to all who would listen that it was a done deal and that even the Irish Executive Council – supposedly the ruling NUJ body in Ireland could do nothing about it. I am certain in my own mind that no individual actually meant any harm by what was done or said, but the union cannot escape the general perception of how its way of dealing with matters is perceived by those looking in, including thousands of photographer members.

There are a few people in the NUJ, who refer to freelances as ‘small businesses’ and treat them as second-class members, and of course this is reprehensible, but this is not a widespread viewpoint.

That the NEC made clear that as a body it endorsed the openness of NEC and the rights that members have, enshrined in the rules to attend meetings, is good, however it was disturbing to hear some of the poor arguments put by members of the Emergency committee themselves to justify the actions they took at the eNEC meeting. These are important members of the union and include the current President and the next President, the Hon Treasurer etc – the people who are the makers and shakers of the NUJ. The desire to put out an aura of ‘control freakery’ is unhelpful and totally counter productive. The union cannot applaud itself on being open and for the members (which it desperately wants to be) when senior members of its management put out exactly the opposite point of view – and I accept that they would probably be most upset and horrified to hear that their actions are perceived in this way, but continual denial will not invoke confidence. A complete openness and an ability to accept publicly that mistakes are (have been) made, would be an excellent way, (the only), forward, and go a long way forward to restoring confidence in what should be our flagship representative fighting organisation. To keep telling members that everything is fine, continually slapping each other on the back telling everyone how clever we are without addressing properly the issues that photographers (and other members) continually highlight, will not fool anyone, cynical photographers included, and I say this as an elected member of the NEC who really desperately wants the Union to work.

The NUJ is about much more than negotiating chapel agreements. If it were not so then hardliners such as myself would have left the union a long time ago. The NUJ has a long history of photographer activists, as Andrew Wiard will be able to confirm – and he has been working tirelessly on our behalf for thirty two years, the NUJ and photographer activists can point to many successes in the past including the 1988 copyright act and the current gatekeeper press card.

In the past three years we have seen the set up of the Photographers Sub-Committee reporting to the Freelance Industrial Council. Very welcome, if long overdue, and at last the union has elected Photographer expertise that can be used to fight photographer issues and provide a pool of resources that can easily be consulted by other union bodies. However since its formation there has been only one clear formal consultation of the PSC, yet the union has made policy on numerous issues – of direct consequence to photographers. Why is this, if the Union truly values its photographers and their judgement? The Ethics Council finally consulted the PSC on the changes it proposed in the rules only after heavy lobbying from the PSC itself and the extensive photographer lobby at both the Annual Delegate meeting and after. But currently the Ethics Council seems to be the only council and committee prepared to/willing to consult the Photographers Sub Committee on matters affecting photographers. Why is this? If the rest of the union takes us seriously why don’t they ask us for our opinion?

The Photographers sub committee has been very active and has achieved much. It has been involved in the Photographers exhibition at ADM and the Photographers Conference in February, both hailed as highly successful events. Clearly neither of these events would have happened had it not been for the huge support received from the Freelance office and the Organisers John Toner and Pamela Morton, both of whom have worked tirelessly on behalf of photographers.

Many in the NUJ see the roll of the union as providing support for members in chapel negotiations and personal cases. Of course for many chapel members this may indeed be the case, but for freelance members and photographers in particular the union means something different.

As individuals we mostly have little effect on the way things happen, but by using the NUJ, its resources and expertise we can have an affect on our industry. Recently over the past year members and the freelance office negotiated press guidelines with Nottingham Police and the Metropolitan Police (in conjunction with the British press Photographers Association, and the Chartered Institute of Journalists). Ok the police don’t seem to have fully taken them on board yet, but having the backing of the NUJ has helped bring them about, and indeed these same guidelines are now being rolled out throughout England and Wales. It would be great to see them discussed in Ireland and Scotland too.

The NUJ has been active in sorting out and dealing with many situations including
· 5.4% increase for photographers at the Irish Times
· NUJ Court challenge to NPower injunction lifts restrictions on photography at Radley Lakes
· Newsquest's Herald titles hit by huge walkout in strike over redundancies
· A Must-Read: The ABCD of Photographic Copyright NUJ is a key member of the BPLC
· NUJ Freelance Fees guide – the industry leader is compiled by the Freelance Office of the NUJ Check this site out, the resources here are simply huge
· a resource run by NUJ members for NUJ photographer members may not be endorsed by the union like NUJPhoto, but just as effective.
· The NUJ Freelance Directory in the process of being redesigned and made better, bigger and free.

For all the fact that the NUJs NEC has put its foot in it several times recently, it does recant each time. True, it would be better if the huge amount of effort wasted in getting these about turns could be avoided, and the resources expended used more productively. I think the union will learn – it simply has to. Once the organisation returns to the track and follows its prime directives of working for and on behalf of all its members, it will be the best chance photographers have.

But it is not just down to the NUJ and its members. Our industry is changing. Ok, we are used to this, but the changes now are not specifically due to technology as we are used to (mono to colour, analogue to digital etc) although it is related, what is changing now is working practice. Our industry no longer values our work in the way it once did. Local papers are probably the worst culprits. Whereas many of us relied on local paper work fifteen years ago, the rates paid these days are now less than those paid ten years ago in many cases, yet our overheads, expenses, equipment needs and technical expertise has skyrocketed. We may not have to worry about all that messy wet processing malarkey any more, but instead we have to spend all the hours god sends digital processing, which no bugger wants to pay for, and most clients either don’t understand or totally blank.

If clients do not value our work we have two choices:

· We accept the devaluation and the low fees and stop supplying if we don’t like it.
· We educate these same clients as to why it makes sense to use our work and pay an acceptable fee.

Frankly I personally think that it is now too late and there is no going back with local paper work. If media organisations really do believe that giving a reporter a mobile phone produces adequate imagery then perhaps we have just gone a step too far. The only chance we have is if a really comprehensive education campaign is undertaken immediately. This has to be led by the NUJ and other organisations. And of course we have to educate our own members starting with NUJ Officials and the NEC. If the officials and National representatives do not believe in our cause, why would anyone else?

Digital does not mean easy or quality – unless used competently. There is absolutely no reason why reporters cannot take photographs as part of their regular work, providing they are given the training and equipment and remuneration to do this properly. If media organisations just assume that reporters can take pictures on top of what they already do as writers then this devalues the work of photographers and overburdens the poor reporter. In addition, although many Publishers seem unphased by the deterioration in quality, it produces in almost every case a poorer quality product.

As for video, it seems that this is the next step forward for those who insist in staying with editorial photojournalism. Here again we need some education. Video is a viewing medium not a written/verbal one. Who is more likely to produce better quality product, journalists who have been producing photographic images professionally, or reporters who are given a cheap video camera to use whilst they do their regular work? Education is required for everyone, and editorial photographers need to get trained to, in order to make him or her better able to use this new equipment. Now that is something constructive the NUJ could help with.

Pete Jenkins
Photographer activist
NEC member