True journalism - and I don't mean celebrity gossip or extended captions for fashion shoots - has its roots in the struggle for fairness and objectivity. As a journalist, you report the news so that readers can make up their own opinions. People still die for this right around the world. We are incredibly lucky in this country to have a free press. The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) takes its responsibilities very seriously. Beyond looking out for obvious stuff - rates of pay, working conditions and so on - it strives to bring an equal level of scrutiny to all subjects we may write about.
Among the points in the NUJ's Code of Conduct are various points including that a journalist:
- strives to ensure that information disseminated is honestly conveyed, accurate and fair
- differentiates between fact and opinion
- produces no material likely to lead to hatred or discrimination on the grounds of a person’s age, gender, race, colour, creed, legal status, disability, marital status, or sexual orientation
So what does this mean around election time – specifically with political groups that base their policies on issues of race, creed and so on? Simple. It means that journalists should, if anything, intensify their focus. Politics of hate are incredibly difficult to deal with. And it is all too easy to let a comfort zone settle around groups that - for the time being at least - are wearing a friendlier face.
We can't afford to let that happen. It's just too important. And as for the consequences of letting things drift...well, they don't really bear thinking about.
The NUJ has started a website, Reporting the BNP, which deals with exactly this issue. Even if you aren't a journalist, it makes fascinating reading.
It provides background on personalities, policies and activities; it has a couple of fascinating first-hand narratives by journalists who have covered the BNP; and it explains how the party has been modernising as well as explaining itself to the public.
And when many people don't know much more about the BNP other than that it is "tough on immigration", the facts are more important than ever. The public needs truthful information, not obfuscation and sound-bites from PRs.
This is what unions should be about: enabling their members to do their jobs, allowing them to see - and paint - the bigger picture, protecting the liberties that we so often take for granted.
I'll leave the final word to Jeremy Dear, General Secretary of the NUJ:
As journalists we have a responsibility to hold politicians to account.
Our job is to scrutinise people from all parties. Our job is also to tell the truth, which is why we have provided this resource for journalists covering the BNP in the course of their work.
It gives background information on the party, its past, its policies and its personnel; it provides information on how to follow the party’s progress in the European Parliament; it provides resources to help challenge the party’s claims on housing, immigration and race, and it explains why the BNP is not like any other party.
After all, no other party:
- was founded on the basis of a whites-only admission policy
- feels the need to remind members: ‘We are not a racist party’
- denies the Holocaust
- shelters so many convicted criminals in its ranks
- has links with a website that encourages attacks on journalists
The NUJ encourages its members to expose the BNP to public scrutiny and to challenge their claims.
When you do, you will find the veneer of respectability soon wears off. A few well-directed questions here, a bit of background research there, and the British National Party stands before you as it really is.
This website provides you with a starting point for that research and puts the party, and its members, into a political and historical context. We hope you find it useful.
Jeremy Dear, General Secretary, NUJ