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Journalism under threat steers debate at annual union meeting

Journalism under threat – from both dangers while at work, and tight resources – was a major theme at the National Union of Journalists’ four days in Belfast.

The conference was an opportunity for NUJ members to discuss the workplace challenges facing journalists.

The lack of investment in journalism came up time and again throughout the conference. Cases of pitifully low wages, long hours, job cuts and no training were all raised. Delegates took their chance to highlight how NUJ members are fighting to make a difference.

The conference heard examples of journalists standing up to make their employers listen, including strong examples from the South Wales Evening Post, the BBC, Glasgow Herald, RTE, ITV, Milton Keynes Citizen, Racing Post, AOL and Express Newspapers, where union members held the first of three 24-hour strikes on the first day of the conference.

There was lengthy discussion on the Stand up for Journalism campaign and union organisation, with motions calling for more actions around the campaign passed by delegates.

Plans to change the size of the conference were seen as an attack on democracy.

Motions on recruitment, including a strong commitment to put more resources in to recruitment in new areas including professional bloggers, were supported.

Debates over the coverage of suicide and children open up the ethics debate.

As well as hearing speeches on equality and training, delegates discussed and endorsed the report of the union’s Multimedia Commission, which sets out good and bad examples of newsroom integration. The debate suggested that many media companies are willing to invest in technology but not in the journalism that’s needed to make it a real success.

BBC journalist Alan Johnston – in captivity at the time of last year’s annual meeting – and Naim Toubassi, the President of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, which helped secure his release, both spoke at the conference.

Alan thanked the union for its help in securing his release when he was held captive in Gaza for four months in 2007 but he went on to highlight the dangers still faced by hundreds of journalists today.

He called on the conference to continue campaigning for journalists who are detained, tortured and, in some cases, killed because of their profession. A number of delegates were in tears as Alan made his speech, which was particularly poignant as it followed a moving address by Naim, who highlighted the many challenges facing members of his organisation.

The city’s Linen Hall Library staged an event on the eve of the conference paying tribute to Martin O’Hagan, the Sunday World journalist who was shot dead in 2001.

The event was to celebrate Martin’s life and journalism but speakers there and throughout the conference were angered that his killers have not yet been brought to justice.