Thousands of journalists across Britain and Ireland protested against worsening conditions in their industry this week, taking part in a series of events and demonstrations called by the National Union of Journalists (NUJ).
Bonfire Night was renamed Stand Up for Journalism Day as media workers across the country joined forces to demand better working conditions.
The campaign was born out of a call for action from the grassroots membership of the NUJ, from journalists who feel they are being reduced to a cross between call centre workers and data processors, stuck at their desks rejigging press releases.
Increasingly, media companies are culling jobs, axeing pensions and slashing editorial budgets.
In the past two years alone, over 6,000 jobs have been lost in the media.
Journalists are over-pressed, workloads are enormous and inevitably, quality is compromised.
The story is the same across all sectors of the media – newspapers, magazines, books, PR, online and broadcasting.
Public service broadcasting is currently facing an unprecedented attack – and strong action is needed if we are to defend jobs and standards at the BBC and at ITV news services.
The fact that the BBC, which has a duty to inform and educate licence payers about what’s going on in Britain, is hell-bent on savage cuts shows that the BBC is going the same way as the private corporations running the rest of the media.
Reporters, photographers, sub-editors, producers and publishing workers are saying enough is enough.
Companies swinging the axe are almost all making big money – yet despite that they are engaging in round after round of cuts simply to increase their profit margins.
Some regional newspaper groups are not happy unless they are reaping a massive 25 or 30 percent in profits from their titles – figures that are simply not possible unless costs are cut to the bone and investment in their newspapers is minimal.
Not only is this damaging journalism, it is also cheating readers.
That is why the NUJ is determined to get the public thinking about just what damage is being done to journalism and what effect this is having on civil society.
How will we know what corruption, lies or lawbreaking is going on in our corridors of power if journalists are not able to do their jobs properly?
Quality and properly resourced journalism is a critical part of any democracy.
Sweeping technological change is being used by many companies as an excuse to cut costs even further.
The convergence of new and old media platforms is being rolled out in newsrooms around the country.
The NUJ believes that while media technology and the industry inevitably change, quality content remains central to commercial success and our role in the democratic process.
The union isn’t against new technology – far from it. It offers enormous opportunities for our members and for the public alike.
But we are against exploitation and dangerous workloads. We are against working journalists so hard they have no time for proper investigations. We are against employers who will sacrifice quality products for the chance to make a quick profit.
Take the example of the Manchester Evening News, where in the two years since it has introduced multi-platform convergence, the company has slashed the jobs of more than 30 journalists.
What this means is that there are now far fewer people doing far more work than before.
This formula is repeated all over the country, leading to more cases of stress, repetitive strain injury, and talented, experienced journalists quitting the profession.
Our campaign has resonated deeply with journalist unions across Europe. In over 20 European countries including Serbia, Poland, France, Italy and Greece to name but a few, journalists organised their own action on 5 November – from work stoppages to demonstrations and petitions.
They too are experiencing attacks on the media and have decided that now is the time to stand up for better pay and conditions and to demand bigger editorial budgets to enable them to do their jobs properly.
Monday 5 November was chosen as the focal day of our campaign so that we could lobby editors taking part in the annual Society of Editors conference, held in Manchester.
We want our editors to join with us and stand up to the culture of cuts. If they believe that journalism is important for democracy and for local communities they must take a stand.
Bonfire Night was not the end of our campaign to protect journalism and journalists – the NUJ is committed to standing up for journalism today and every day and the fight to protect jobs and standards will continue.
Quality journalism matters, to each and every one of us. Please join with us in standing up for these values.
Michelle Stanistreet is the president of the National Union of Journalists. She will be speaking at the Media Workers Against the War meeting, The First Casualty? War, Truth and the Media Today on Saturday 17 November, 2 – 6.30pm at the London School of Economics. For more information go to » www.mwaw.net
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