Now, I am not sure I completely accept the story that Eamonn McCann tells about the demise of the NUJ (it possible, with hindsight at least, to suggest they picked the wrong fight with the wrong man) as an active force within the Murdoch empire, but the washing out of individual conscience of the journalist, certainly at the News of the World, seems to have important factor in the slow undermining of News International’s news product over time:
The absence of any organised expression of the distinct interests and concerns of journalists meant management priorities could be imposed at will. Journalists were hired on short-term contracts, typically of a year or six months. There was no need for any sacking procedure. Anyone who didn’t prove as malleable as the Murdochs, Brooks and Coulsons demanded would be cast adrift when their contract expired. The result was, as phone-hacker Glenn Mulcaire has put it, “fear all the time”
That wouldn’t have happened if the NUJ had been on hand.
The assault on the right to union representation has been central to the development of the ethos which generated the scandal. The reason this aspect hasn’t been front and centre in coverage is that to acknowledge the necessity of trade unionism would be to take discussion of the issues which arise down a path where, even today, few want to go
Lord Leveson might like to note that in Ireland, the newly formed Press Council comes with the full co-operation from the NUJ, the UK’s Press Complaints Commission does not. It also has official protection under the 2009 Defamation Act, which means the Press Council cannot be so easily threatened by that legal plaything of the powerful and the wealthy, the law suit.
Great power, even media power, demands powerful brakes. In demanding such a high price from the unions, Mr Murdoch effectively left his company with little defence against the excesses of corporate culture which has seen News International drop from hero to zero in the space of just six short weeks.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty