EVERY MEMBER of the journalists' NUJ union will receive a ballot paper this week over whether it should have a separate fund for political campaigns. It is important to say yes. The events of the past three weeks-Lord Hutton's attack on the BBC and, by implication, investigative journalism in general, along with the magnificent walkouts of BBC staff in defence of the corporation-show just how high the political atmosphere can get around the NUJ.
There are a host of other political issues around which it is vital the NUJ campaigns. The objectives of the NUJ include the defence and promotion of freedom of the press, broadcasting, speech and information, and the defence and promotion of peace, social justice and civil liberty.
Those arguing for a no vote claim the union has managed for years to campaign politically without a political fund. They say the union is under no legal compulsion to have one. But the legal issue is not the most important argument anyway. Having a political fund will make it absolutely clear that the NUJ, like every trade union, is part of a highly political world, and that it does take its responsiblities to its members very seriously.
A no vote would be a serious backward step. This was spelt out at a debate last week on the issue in central London. A former Daily Express journalist told of a campaign by NUJ members on the paper to condemn the racist reporting of asylum seekers. She said that those who say there should be no politics in the union are against such vital campaigns.
These people will be even more confident to stop political issues being raised in the union if the ballot goes against a separate fund being established.
The new issue of Better Red, the paper for rank and file journalists, is out this week. It is a special on the BBC walkouts, the Hutton report and the political fund ballot. To get your copies phone 07810 824 223.