Thursday, June 18, 2009

High noon on judgement day

At midday today a court in Belfast could effectively pass what amounts to "a death sentence" on a journalist. Of course, Suzanne Breen may be given a choice - she can go to jail instead. But there is a chink of light. Thanks to the fabulous campaign she and her paper and the union have run she has massive support for the principle of protection of sources and the court could uphold that principle. Whatever the outcome today the union will support Suzanne to the hilt. She is protecting a fundamental principle of journalism. If she is forced to hand over her notes and records not only will she be placed in danger but investigative journalism will be dealt a massive blow. Good luck Suzanne.

In the event that the judgement goes against her not just the union but the whole of the media must react. It is all our rights under attack.

While the court case is going on we'll be holed up in the union's Policy Committee meeting covering our Parliamentary work, our TUC work and our international work. With the release of Digital Britain there's much to discuss. Our campaigning against top-slicing needs to be stepped up with the news that 3.5% of the BBC licence fee is to be 'shared'. So they are still planning to rob Peter to pay Paul and give a massive public subsidy to commercial organisations whilst asking little in return. The report is a failure in that it fails to identify new money to help public service broadcasting or other media - it just plans to share out the same pot even thinner putting more pressure on quality.

I met the new Culture Secretary (and NUJ member!) Ben Bradshaw last night at the All Party Parliamentary Media Group reception at Channel 4 and had a chance to urge a rethink and push the alternative he says he is interested in finding. It's called levies. And having been told by all and sundry they are difficult to deliver politically we then get a levy on the public to pay for part of the broadband roll-out. Oh the hypocrisy! Anyone interested in hearing the case for levies should come along on Monday to an event organised by the Federation of Entertainment Unions.
It's time to join the battle. It may be our last chance to save the licence fee from a future rapacious government. I also had a good chat with Don Foster MP and Austin Mitchell about Digital Britain. They have both made excellent interventions standing up for journalism in the current debate.

Apart from hob-nobbing with the media glitterati at Channel 4, I've moved office (to make room for the GFTU who move in next month), had a number of internal staff meetings and attended meetings of the TUC Executive and the unattractively named Organisation and Representation Task Group but which is actually the key cross-unions committee at the TUC dealing with employment rights issues and union recruitment. We had an interesting discussion about plans to try to reverse the decline in union membership which is particularly acute because of the recession. The pattern is uneven with some unions gaining members whilst others have suffered heavy losses. We're doing not too badly given the huge job losses there have been in our industry. Recruitment remains high but it is not keeping up with the numbers leaving the industry at the moment. Over the next few months our attention will be on breaking in to new areas and building the number of union reps we have to help build the effectiveness of the union in more workplaces.

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