Tim Dawson

Journalism old and new – note new email address: tim@tim-dawson.com

Category Archives for: National Union of Journalists

Chief constable shoots the messenger as gun men roam free

13 December 2018 by timdawsn

Picture Northern Ireland’s most senior police officer, George Hamilton, settling down to watch the film No Stone Unturned. It must have left him worried, angry and possibly betrayed. It certainly landed a big decision in his lap.

The documentary feature, made by Oscar-winner Alex Gibney, and originally a BBC co-production, forensically unpicks 1994’s Loughinisland massacre and the woeful response of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

The bones of the story are well known. On 18 June 1994 Italy’s footballers faced the Republic of Ireland in the World Cup. Deep in the Northern Ireland’s countryside, drinkers in Heights Bar, Loughinisland, were enjoying the match when masked men burst in and sprayed the bar with automatic gun fire. Six people died.

Disgust was widespread, not least as Loyalist and Republican paramilitary ceasefires came within months of the shooting. Police and politicians promised justice would be swift and proportionate.

In the days following the shooting, developments apparently went the way of the law enforcers. The getaway car, rich in forensic evidence, turned up in a nearby field. By a bridge close by, the automatic rifle was found. And within the community, most people knew the names of the killers within a month. They lived scarcely five miles from the crime scene.

But convictions, there were none. Months became years, and then decades. The bereaved families showed a remarkable dignity in their mourning, but eventually, and quite rightly, they started to ask questions. Why had nothing happened?

Twenty three years after the killings, Gibney’s film provided quite a lot of the answers. Based on a secret document compiled by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, it names the four Ulster Volunteer Force members who are the chief suspects the atrocity.

It unpicks the police investigation which by turns was deliberately slow footed, woefully incompetent and orchestrated in collusion with the killers.

It shows how the police destroyed evidence and, in one particularly shocking exposé, suggests that a Detective Constable pressured the gang’s leader to eliminate a personal enemy.

As the narrative unfolded, George Hamilton could jump in one of two ways. The Police Service of Northern Ireland’s chief constable could have opened a new investigation to catch the killers and bring to justice the RUC officers whose bungling had landed this on his plate. Or he could pursue the journalists who had shone light on a shameful episode in the history of the force he joined at the age of eighteen.

He chose the latter course. It was a terrible misjudgement that will, in time, bring further dishonour to policing in Northern Ireland and may yet bring his career to a premature end.

Very early one August morning, a massive detachment of his officers, bristling with guns, burst unannounced into the Belfast homes of producer Trevor Birney and reporter Barry McCaffrey.

Both had worked on No Stone Unturned. As the journalists’ families and neighbours looked on in horror, officers removed phones, memory sticks and computers and took the arrested men for questioning.

For fourteen hours, Birney and McCaffrey were held and interrogated. Eventually they were bailed, since which time their bail has been renewed until March 2018. They are accused of theft, handling stolen goods, data protection crimes and offences under the Official Secrets Act.

Such an assault on press freedom is an outrage in itself. But in a manner reminiscent of the original Loughinisland investigations, as many questions are thrown up as answers.

Initially the PSNI buy phentermine 37.5 mg said that it was acting on a complaint of the theft of documents by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland. That body has since made clear that it made no such complaint.

The searches and subsequent investigation is apparently being carried out on behalf of Durham Constabulary which says that it is carrying out an ‘independent investigation’. Of what Durham’s investigation is independent is not clear – certainly not PSNI, whose officers were present at all the interviews.

Then there is the timescale. The film makers told the PSNI that they intended to name the chief suspects in their film six months before its release.

It was a deliberate move intended to allow the police to act if they thought that lives might be put at risk by such a public revelation. Injuncting the film, so that it could not be shown, would have been straightforward at that time.

The police did nothing. Nor did they act when the film was released in November 2017. It was a box office success in Ireland north and south, but the journalists were not troubled until August 2018.

Birney and McCaffrey are traumatised by the experience. They can’t leave Northern Ireland without giving the police prior notice, reams of data wholly unconnected with the film has been removed from their computer server, some highly sensitive, and theirs and their families’ property has not been returned.

They have, however, been buoyed by the support they have received. The NUJ quickly came to their side, of course. We have organised screenings of the film and support meetings in London, Manchester, Belfast and Dublin. More are planned.

In Westminster last week Birney and McCaffrey received a warm welcome from Labour’s Northern Ireland front bench, who promised to lend their support to the case. Other parliamentarians followed.

Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said that their treatment was ‘outrageous’, and undertook to intervene on their behalf. Former deputy prime minister Lord John Prescott gave them a sympathetic ear, as did MPs from the SNP and Sinn Féin.

Many asked if there is some back story that explains the Police behaviour. The best hypothesis is this. There is a political hiatus in Northern Ireland.

As a result, efforts to deal with ‘legacy issues’ arising from ‘the troubles’, have foundered – save in one area. The Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland has continued to do its work investigating complaints, current and historical, about the conduct of the police.

Those who are emotionally connected to the Royal Ulster Constabulary (the force that the PSNI replaced), have felt a spotlight on their past actions, that other communities have been inadvertently spared.

That might be an explanation, but it is no excuse. The best thing that could now happen is for George Hamilton to admit his mistake, drop the case and get on with pursuing the killers. If that does not happen, then the more people who register their concern about this case, the better.

Birney and McCaffrey are clear. This is a deliberate attempt to discourage investigative journalism – particularly when it concerns difficult subjects from the past. Whatever your feelings about the police, or the politics of Northern Ireland, or the conduct of the media, democracy is a risk if we don’t make our protests as noisily as possible.

While I was with Trevor and Barry, I made this short film of them talking about their case.

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BMW security let down by guards

07 April 2017 by timdawsn

Article first appeared in Amateur Photographer 8 April 2017

WITH A COUPLE OF HOURS between meetings one afternoon last summer, I walked the perimeter of BMW’s Oxford plant. My hope was to take a photograph that somehow conveyed the idea of a contemporary car factory.

Amateur Photographer pageIt was not easy. A fence surrounds the facility. Anonymous modern sheds form one side. On another, dozens of resting workers sat on low walls – but without a car in sight.

Only at the back the plant did the scene in my picture present itself. It still was not quite what I had imagined, but there were plenty of cars, as well as shiny chimneys hinting at a modern production line within. I took a few shots through a wire fence, experimenting with exposure and composition.

Before I noticed it there was a security guard at my side.

“You can’t take pictures here, I’m afraid?” he said – courteous but insistent.

Surely I was within my rights while I am on a public road, I replied?

“This is not a public road, it is owned by BMW and for that reason, I am asking you to leave”, came his response.

I accepted his word and left. When I got home, however, I called Oxfordshire County Council to check the veracity of the guard’s assertion. It confirmed my hunch: Transport Way, Cowley is a public road.

The problem on which I had stumbled is one that bedevils photographers professional and amateur – attempts to prohibit taking pictures where it is actually perfectly legal.

Nick McGowan-Lowe, a press photographer who sits on the NUJ’s national executive confirms that my experience is widespread. “Blurring boundaries between public and private space, increasing use of security guards and paranoia about social media is making all kinds of photography https://ordersomapill.com more and more difficult”, he says.

Part of the solution is is to know our legal rights. There is a good summary in the FAQ section at epuk.org and another on this site. Professionals, particularly those interested in publishable, “candid” shots of celebrities, face a complex legal framework. For those with simpler aspirations it is much easier: in general, when in a public place you can use a camera without legal impediment. Even if you are asked to move on, no one has the right to summarily insist to see or delete your pictures.

Courteous insistence on our rights and careful documentation where third parties try to erode our liberties are the best antidotes to over-enthusiastic security staff, in my experience.

These are freedoms that could be compromised in other ways, of course. A few months ago Amateur Photographer reported that Apple is experimenting with technology to disable cameras in its own devices in discreet locations. Other reports suggest that mobile phone manufacturers are close to being able to change device settings automatically to stop phones ringing in cinemas, for example. It is easy to see how the more connected cameras become, the more their control might be excised remotely, particularly to prevent pictures being taken at concerts, of celebrities or, indeed, around the back of car factories.

Perhaps film photography’s renaissance will reach new heights as chemical exposure is deployed to outwit camera-disabling networks?

Meantime, six months after my trip to Oxford, I received a reply from BMW staff acknowledging that the road in question is indeed public and apologising for their over-zealous security. As a goodwill gesture they have offered me a free trip around the inside of their car plant – on the strict understanding that I take no photographs.

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Photo cuts wound communities

07 April 2017 by timdawsn

This article first appeared in Amateur Photographer in December 2017

WHEN MY BROTHER DIED unexpectedly at the age of 40, my family was distraught. Like others struck by grief, we flapped around searching for ways to celebrate a life cut short.

[Cutting from Amateur Photographer]

A faded newspaper cutting celebrating his non-stop bicycle ride from Yorkshire to London and back, years earlier, provided one cue. The crumpled newsprint clipped from Bradford’s Telegraph and Argus featured a monochrome shot of him, with his bike, holding a map and checking his watch. It is a classic newspaper feature: the image communicates the gist of the story, the caption provides the details.

Hoping that a better print might comfort my mother, I contacted the paper. Its picture editor promised to check the archives.

A couple of weeks later, I was amazed to receive a large, full-colour print; it has occupied pride of place in my parent’s home ever since.

I reflect on this story whenever I hear about the wholesale cull of newspaper photographers. Newsquest, Johnston Press, Archant and Trinity Mirror have shed scores of snappers over the past two years.

Wasted talent and lost incomes infuriate me, as do tumbling standards in well-loved titles. But photojournalism requires more than competence with a camera. My picture was accessible only because it had been properly titled and archived. Today we take millions more photographs than we did 30 years ago, but few are properly captioned in the style that is second nature to newspaper photographers.

The photographic databases of community life that newspapers accumulate are priceless troves. They provide granular evidence of important events, the composition of committees, what cases came before the courts and how built environments have evolved.

Some documentary work continues. A friend who spent decades as a local newspaper photographer tells me that since redundancy and a move to freelance work, he has photographed much the same people as before and been published in the same paper. Now, however, the schools, health trusts and football teams pay his bills. As a result, organisations with budgets are recorded; individual enthusiasts, like my brother, are not.

Newspapers have had a torrid time over the past decade, exacerbated by owners that prioritise profits over standards. There is some evidence, however, that the tide may have turned very slightly. Some local newspaper groups appear to have realised that stealing images from the internet can create problems that outweigh the ostensible cost savings. The days when a team of professional photographers documented life in every town and city are unlikely to return, however.

The NUJ will continue to pressure newspaper groups like Trinity Mirror, Johnston and Newsquest to recognise professional photography’s value. We will also call for local newspapers to be treated as community assets whose destiny should not be abandoned to remote, often foreign, buy lorazepam online, holding companies that care little for community.

For those of us who for whom photography is a passion rather than a profession, the lesson is to put as much effort into captioning as we do composition. Who knows what comfort today’s split-second exposure might provide in the future if we do?

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13 November 2016 by timdawsn

In Hollywood blockbusters (and countries run by despots) attacks on the free press see journalists dragged to prison, presses smashed and tv stations forcibly shut.

In Britain’s liberal democracy, undermining our ability to investigate, and to express freely what we find, takes different forms.  And three pieces of legislation before the Westminster parliament this week are as deadly, and certainly more insidious, than bully-boy secret policemen and arbitrary edicts shutting down newspapers.

First – the Investigatory Powers Bill will allow the police to track who a journalist has met with, spoken to and exchanged electronic communications with. The Police will be able to do this for their own purposes or when acting on behalf of public authorities. They will be able to do so in secret ­– as a result, journalists will have no idea that their communication data has been seized and will be denied the opportunity to oppose before a judge applications and thereby protect a source.  Despite concessions secured by the NUJ and others, the safeguards for journalists in the Bill don’t go far enough –  inevitably this law will be misused, as its predecessors have been on numerous occasions, such as here, here and here. The NUJ has produced a full briefing on this Bill.

Second, a clause in the Digital Economy Bill will make a criminal offence the passing on of information that has not been ‘authorised for sharing’. What journalist has not been given internal documents by a whistleblower to provide the basis for a story about corruption, bad employment practices or wasted public money?  In future, both journalist and whistleblower will risk criminal prosecution.

And finally there is the Police and Crime Bill is intended to make possible the prosecution of stalkers.  Its implications for journalism,­ particularly photography, however, are chilling, buy ativan online no prescription. It would criminalise taking multiple images of a person without their permission.  There is a public interest defence but, as the amendment is currently framed, an individual photographer might potentially be arrested and thrown in the cells before having the chance to make the case that their work was legitimate.  If the subject of the photography were wealthy and powerful, a photographer could find themselves pleading their case from behind bars, in the face of expensive lawyers trying to prolong their incarceration.

The NUJ, other groups and our parliamentary allies, have been working on these Bills for several months and have obtained some significant concessions.  None go far enough however for a free press to be assured.

Unless legislators hear our protests and unless they can see that there is a constituency that will defend press freedoms, then in the coming years these new laws will be used to keep secret corruption, intimidate those who would shine light into dark places and lock up those who would expose the misdeeds of the powerful.

I urge you now, if you care about press freedom, and the ability of journalists to do their work, email your MP now, whatever party they represent, and call on them to speak up for your interests and the interests of all journalists.

For more information on any of these Bills, either contact me directly or email: campaigns@nuj.org.uk

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Happy unions: Corbyn delights labour’s leaders

16 September 2015 by timdawsn

Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader the day before Trades Union Congress gathered in Brighton electrified the annual gathering of shop stewards and general secretaries.  Speeches on the most prosaic subjects were greeted with thunderous applause if they included a hat tip to the MP for Islington North.  One militant general secretary took to the rostrum to anticipate strikes being enthusiastically supported from the opposition dispatch boxes.  And, even the Trotskyite newspapers, whose vendors crowded around Congress’ entrance, struggled to contain their delight at the veteran leftist’s surprise triumph.

When the man himself arrived in Brighton to address Congress he was accorded not one, but three standing ovations.

Labour’s new leader is no orator.  In other circumstances his performance might have provoked yawns.  The wave of enthusiasm that had swept him to victory has been such that he could have read out his shopping list and still received a hero’s welcome.  As it was, he talked about his own union background, praised the unrecognised potential of ordinary people “on whom the elite look on with contempt because of the way that they speak”.  And committed himself to a discursive approach to writing Labour’s next manifesto: “if everyone is involved in policy making then everyone will feel ownership of those policies”.

Corbin concluded with and emphatic promise to the 700 delegates: “The Tories have declared war on organised Labour…but in 2020 we will be the winners”.

A delegate from the National Union of Teachers caught the mood when she told a fringe meeting that the spirit in the country was: “Like Stop The War, the miners strike and the Poll Tax all rolled in to one”.  Even general secretaries whose unions long ago disaffiliated from the Labour party were keen to relate their long-time relationships with the Corbyn and his shadow chancellor.

Conviction that a momentous change is underway was not the only thing charging up the the industrial comrades, however.  On Congress’ first full day, draconian new trades union laws received their second Parliamentary reading.  This, quite rightly, was the subject of universal and furious condemnation.  Len McCluskey from Unite was one of several general secretaries to openly contemplate defying repressive trades union laws.  He drew parallels with US civil rights activists in the 1960s and those whose sexuality was once outlawed.

Matt Wrack, the firefighters general secretary told a fringe meeting that he and his president had been frustrated not to have been arrested at a recent demonstration that they had organised in defiance of public order laws.  “What would happen if we organised a protest that got the entire General Council of the TUC arrested – that would show our members what we are up against”, he suggested.

His idea did not make the final https://buyingdiazepam10mg.com order paper – so perhaps not all the general secretaries shared the views of the delegate who announced that in defence of her union she would “happily go to prison and lose her home”.

Recognising division at the TUC requires a tutored eye.  Most differences are ironed out at the compositing stage.  When no amount of redrafting satisfies everyone, then the  General Council recommends composites to delegates – but warns them of their “concerns’ with aspects of the motion”.  This year’s tussle had clearly been over the use of the phrase “organise generalised strike action to fight any attempts to criminalise trade unionists engaged in industrial action”.  It appeared in a motion about the pending Trades Union Bill.  The General Council was apparently keen to avoid anything containing echoes of 1926’s nine-day stoppage.

Supporting their case, RMT delegates reminded Congress and fringe meetings of their predecessor union’s track record opposing unjust laws.  The Taff Vale judgement of 1901 was rehashed in some detail for the benefit of those not steeped in the movement’s history. It was a reminder of union activists’ fondness for evoking their own past, and in this debate proved sufficient to persuade delegates to back the RMT’s stance.

One event of the recent past was little mentioned in Brighton, however.  Its only four months since a Labour leader who owed his job the trades union backing was convinced that he was on threshold of Downing Street.  Instead the Tories won their first election for 22 years.  The unexpected elevation of Ed Miliband’s successor appeared to have largely erased this painful episode from the minds of most of those who took to the rostrum.

Perhaps this will turn out to be a good thing?  The pessimism that sometimes infuses trades union gatherings is not attractive.  This moment of boundless optimism on the left might be just what is needed to project the movement anew to those generations of workers who, if they think of unions at all, picture relics from the era of black-and-white tv, little relevant to their own working lives.

If that happens, it will be quite an achievement for a man well past the age at which most unions campaign for workers to be allowed a peaceful retirement.


Pictures all © Tim Dawson – Jeremy Corbyn greets congress, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady presents the annual report, Congress in session, workers who have been in dispute during the previous year are honoured, former NUJ President Anita Halpin prepares a speech, Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey flashes a smile and House of Commons Speaker John Bercow explains that trades unions are vital defenders of human rights the world over.

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Source marked: how journalists’ smartphones blow contacts’ cover

19 October 2014 by timdawsn

IFJ/NUJ/Guardian conference – Journalism In An Age Of Mass Surveillance
The Guardian, London 16 October 2014  Above: Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger

Cocktail shakers are newly popular among Guardian journalists, and manual typewriters are making a comeback.  Both result from rising fears about the state’s ability to gather ‘metadata’ from reporter’s telephones.  “Smart phones are tracking devices that (can be used to) reveal our sources,” Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger told the audience.  “The authorities can’t resist the chance to hack us and find out what we are doing”.

Cocktail shakers used as shields render phones harder to track; manual typewriters leave no digital footprint.  Even these might not be enough, however, the Guardian’s former Moscow bureau chief Luke Harding told attendees.  A sophisticated audio bug might allow spooks to decode text from the minutely different sound of each of an old typewriter’s keystroke.  “My experience, in Russia at least, is that the level of surveillance of journalists is like something out of a John Le Carré novel set in the 1980s.”

Both were speaking at ‘Journalism In The Age Of Mass Surveillance’, a one-day event organised by the International Federation Of Journalists, the National Union Of Journalists and The Guardian.  The sold-out event attracted more than 80 journalists from around the world. Edward Snowden, the whistleblower whose revelations, published in The Guardian, drew attention to the extent of state surveillance, spoke to the event via a video link. “Advances in technology mean that anybody can be watched anywhere.  If its is worrying what happens in the advanced democracies, just think what is possible in countries where there is less respect for the rule of law,” he warned.

Whistleblower Edward Snowden, appearing by video link

Whistleblower Edward Snowden, appearing by video link

Guardian journalist Ewen MacAskill, who worked on the Snowden story, told the conference that their source was appalled at their low standards of data security when they first worked together.  “Snowden considered nothing less than a 68 character password,” he said. Even with the most elaborate passwords, however, smart phones make is easy for state agencies and telecoms providers to work out who are a journalist’s http://www.isotretinoinonlinebuy.com sources. The metadata about which MacAskill’s boss worries is the wrap-around information about where a phone has been used and the other mobile devices used in close proximity – all of which can be tracked whether the phone is on or off.

IFJ President Jim Boumelha linked the rise in surveillance of journalists with a “post 9/11 clampdown on free speech”.  And, Bernie Lunzer of the US Newspapers Guild confirmed this view, saying: “Obama is much worse on reporters (freedom to report) than was the previous Bush administration”.

Turning its attention to what can be done to protect sources when electronic surveillance is so easy, the meeting considered two approaches.  A panel of lawyers, including Gavin Millar QC agreed that reform is necessary of the Regulation Of Investigatory Powers Act and the Data Retention And Investigatory Powers Act and the Police And Criminal Evidence Act.

A second panel, including The Guardian’s head of information security Dave Boxall, considered the practical steps that journalists could take to prevent state snooping on their work.  These included a range of technical steps such as TOR, Tails, SecureDrop and Whisper.  Boxall warned, however, that daily promises from vendors that they were offering ‘the most secure system yet’ nearly always fell short of claims made on their behalf.

Comedian Mark Thomas

Comedian Mark Thomas

Comedian Mark Thomas told the conference about the campaign he is running with the NUJ to encourage journalists to apply to the Police to uncover what information has been gathered on them.  “A subject access request turned me up on a Police spotter card and counted as a ‘domestic extremist’”, he said.

The meeting concluded by agreeing a plan of action.  This includes building a culture of information security among journalists; their unions campaigning to defend sources and reigning in the surveillance superstructure; and encouraging media organisations to resist new surveillance laws.

Afterwards Guardian cocktail shakers were deployed more conventionally, and attendees enjoyed a drink courtesy of the paper’s NUJ chapel.

Conference resources.

Live Tweets of the event #freepress #NUJ

There is a very full video record of the event on the NUJ’s website.

Photographs © Tim Dawson

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Bias cut: why journalists should embrace the angry mob

15 September 2014 by timdawsn

Watching television pictures of the demonstration outside the BBC’s Scottish headquarters yesterday, I felt concerned for my friends and colleagues who work there.  Estimates of the crowd size outside their place of work started at around 1,000 – some called it well above that.  The coverage I saw looked good-natured enough – but the chanting and goading had the full-on quality of a football crowd.  Many would quite reasonably feel terrified at the prospect of becoming the focus of such a group’s ire.

The demonstration of ‘Yes’ campaigners were galvanised by two clips taken from a press conference.  The first is part of an edited package in which the BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson says that SNP leader Alex Salmond failed to answer a question.  In the second, apparently unedited clip, it is clear that Salmond devotes some time to taking up Robinson’s point – although whether what he says constitutes and ‘answer’ is clearly a matter of reasonable conjecture.

These two clips provided the spur for the march to Pacific Quay, but anger at the BBC’s coverage of the independence referendum goes deeper.  Two months ago, Scotsman columnist Joyce McMillan told me that, in her view, the BBC’s coverage of the coming vote was a disgrace.  “I have been shocked by the BBC’s bias and its failure to reflect the scale and importance of the Yes campaign”, she told me.  McMillan has spent her adult life defending journalists and is anything but a knee-jerk nationalist.  Her misgivings reflect a deep sense among ‘Yes’ supporters that the media has been against them. It is not entirely surprising – only one of Scotland’s ‘national’ newspapers supports independence.

The nationalists are not the only ones to complain about media bias, however.  In 2012, Ian Davidson, a Glasgow Labour MP, appeared on the BBC’s then flagship Scottish news slot, Newsnight Scotland, and repeatedly referred to the program as ‘Newsnat’.  He later explained that his was a deliberately robust stance against what he saw as the ‘assumptions’ and ‘bias’ that he suggested were frequently evident on that program.  As a result of this, the NUJ’s Scottish organiser Paul Holleran issued a statement condemning the bullying of journalists by politicians.

I know myself what it is like facing down a crowd, some of whom are displaying anger at perceived one-sidedness in the media. A fortnight ago at a meeting of Irish trades unionists in Belfast, I encountered a barrage of accusations about pro-Israeli bias in the reporting of the recent conflict in Gaza.  In the company of the NUJ’s Irish Secretary and General Secretary, I spent over an hour batting back interventions from an audience, some of whose enthusiasm for shooting the messenger was palpable.

This is never a comfortable position for journalists or those who seek to represent them. However, before condemning the protesters, it is worth considering this.  This level of engagement, whether angry or pacific, runs contrary to the popular narrative that ‘big media’ is in steep decline.  According to this view, social and micro media have chipped away at the importance of that which is ‘broadcast’, to the extent that some imagine Twitter one day supplanting the Ten O’Clock News and the Today program.

The evidence from Glasgow on Sunday suggests that people care more than ever what the big media says – and use the micro media to discuss their concerns and devise means to express their points of view.  The Glasgow demonstration certainly appears to have its roots in social media.

As journalists, rather than panicking in the face of the approaching mob, we should welcome the affirmation of our enduring relevance.   There was a time when Marks and Spencer managers boasted that, buy ativan, of all retailers, they received the most complaints; it was confirmation of customers’ certainty that M&S would take their concerns seriously, they reasoned.

Journalists should take a similar attitude.  If those who consume our product care sufficiently about what we do to complain, we should welcome them – however they make us feel.  Where an apology for bias or inaccuracy is appropriate, then that should be offered – and where we can mount a robust defence of our work, then we should make our case without fear.  Facing down an angry crowd is never comfortable, but its better than the easy ride of irrelevance.

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Captive audience – applying pressure to free journalists jailed in Egypt

01 July 2014 by timdawsn

Shocking as was the sight of Al Jazeera journalists  Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed locked in a cage while they were sentenced to long jail terms, broadcast pictures rendered the scene remote.   Meeting with the three journalists’ colleagues, and considering – arguing at times  – about what we in the UK can do to secure their release , provided a direct and visceral connection with those now languishing in Egypt’s cells.

The NUJ called the meeting a week after sentencing, to bring together campaigners for the journalists’ release, and to raise awareness of the other eleven reporters currently behind bars in Egypt. Around fifty activists and journalists , including London-based Egyptians, foreign correspondents and two broadcast units, crowded into the union’s top-floor meeting room on Monday night (30 June).

“A journalists’ boycott of Egypt is not tenable – there are too many important stories happening there, but tourists avoiding the pyramids, Sham el Sheikh and the Nile would hit Egypt’s rulers where is hurts,” said Lindsey Hilsum, Chanel Four News international editor.  There was not a shred of credible evidence against the journalists, she said: “We must not forget about our jailed colleagues”.

Mick Hodgkin, the NUJ Father of Chapel at Al Jazeera in the UK talked about his colleagues’ track record as reporters – Greste with the BBC, Fahmy at the New York Times and CNN and Mohamed a young journalist who “always knew the right questions to ask but never gave away his own political views, such was his commitment to impartiality”.

Jeremy Corbyn MP, from the NUJ’s Parliamentary group, said http://online-health-pharm.com/products/celebrex.htm that he had been the first to tell foreign secretary William Hague about the sentences.  “Al Jazeera’s coverage of Tahrir Square was fantastic.  That is what President Sisi does not want”, he said.  “Sisi knows that you don’t have to lock up every reporter up to start the process of journalists self-censoring”.

International Federation of Journalists president, Jim Boumelha set the imprisonments in the context of the polarisation of Egyptian society.  “The most important thing in Egypt is to build bridges to encourage journalists to come together”, he said.  Boumelha explained that the jailing of journalists was a frequent occurrence under the Mubarak and the Morsi regimes.  He also called on Al Jazeera to recognise unions in all its operations, not just those in the UK.

Opened to the audience, proceedings became rather more voluble.  One audience member accused another of being a wanted murderer and a terrorist.  Another suggested that there would be spies in our midst who would report back to the Egyptian embassy.  Jack Shenker, who was The Guardian’s Cairo correspondent until recently said: “International solidarity will really make a difference to our colleagues who are now in jail.  Egypt is an outward-facing country, its leadership will take notice of international condemnation”.

Shenker was one of several speakers who expressed their belief that with sufficient campaigning the Sisi regime would relent and free Geste, Fahmy and Mohamed.  Witnessing the raw pain their detention is causing their colleagues, not to mention the prisoners own privations, it is clear that the need for the pressure to be applied could not be greater.

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Snoop to conquer: journalism under threat in the wake of the ‘Snowden’ revelations

08 June 2014 by timdawsn

This is a written up version of the speech that I gave to the Don’t Spy On Us day of action on 7 June 2014.  The event sold out its 500-seat venue.  At the end of my session I gave our a decent stack of membership application forms.

The ‘Snowden revelations‘ delivered a sensational story for The Guardian – among the most extraordinary series of disclosures published in my adult lifetime. The paper’s Pulitzer Prize was well deserved. Little wonder in the light of the surveillance they revealed that hundreds of concerned citizens are willing to pack Shoreditch town hall to the rafters on a sunny Saturday afternoon to consider how civic society should respond.

Clearly snooping on this level could be used by state agencies to keep tabs on troublesome journalists, and possibly even to thwart their work. Duncan Campbell has described that threat as ‘existential’ – and I am minded to concur.

That we know about Edward Snowden at all, however, and the extraordinary behavior of GCHQ and the NSA, is in large part because we have a fiercely competitive, robustly free press. The first question for me then is this: are there any serious threats to a free press and effective journalism?

Depressingly, the answer is yes, there are a great many threats.

We have a creeping law of privacy – not enacted by Parliament, but created through precedent by judges – in particular one judge Sir David Eady. It has often been used to frustrate a kind of celebrity journalism that many of us don’t think is very important. Like most of you, I don’t really have much interest in Max Mosley’s sexual proclivities, however unusual they may be. But for every philandering Premiership footballer who has used legal means to keep his wife in the dark, there are far more important stories that are being kept out of the public glare by the stealthy use of Article Eight of the Human Rights Act of 2000.

There are laws such as the Data Protection Act – that are being used to harass individual journalists who have asked unpopular questions. Data protection is a virtuous idea – but should not be a stick with which reporters can be beaten.

I scarcely need to remind anyone of how anti-terrorism legislation was used to detain David Miranda. It is a chilling prospect for any journalist crossing our borders carrying material in which the security services have taken an interest.

And then there are the actions of one major news group that, in an attempt to salve its own reputation, handed over bundles of internal company emails to the Police – potentially incriminating some of those staff. Prosecutions arising from that episode are going through the courts at this moment. Anyone who is in email phentermine online without prescription contact with national newspaper journalists in recent months might have noticed the increasing use of personal email addresses, rather than company ones. They have diverted to Gmail and Yahoo accounts because lots of journalists have seen for themselves the potential for the companies for which they work to sell them out.

There are other threats – cyber attacks on journalists’ web sites, dwindling news-room resources, the blanket use of production orders to trawl journalistic material for criminal evidence and social media campaigns targeting publishers’ advertisers.

I could go on. But let us instead consider what can be done about any of these threats?

Campaigning and awareness raising in civic society is important, of course, that is why an event like this Don’t Spy On Us day of action is so valuable.

But fundamentally, the group of people who will most effectively, most consistently and most vocally stand up for journalism is journalists ourselves.

We need to build a culture among journalists where our first instinct is to defend the right to report, the right to take photographs and the right to do both without being snooped on by the state. And the place to build that culture and to give expression to those ideals is through a trades union.

Some newspapers and their owners have shown their contempt for freedom of speech and freedom to report. Politicians are generally more interested in bending the media to their will than defending its freedoms. And the general public is understandably not always first rush to the defence of journalists.

Members of our trade coming together to discuss issues in our working lives will always be the first to spot threats and the best to work out how to fight them. Through discussion and democratic decision making we are the ones best placed to formulate effective strategies to defend press freedoms. Of course we will need more general public support – but self-organised, freely associating journalists will always been in the vanguard on issues that threaten what we do.

That is why I say, to those journalists, or other media workers who are not members of the NUJ, now is the time to join. Whatever threats the state poses, it is by working together that we stand the best chance of mounting an effective defence. And despite ours being an intensively competitive trade and all the better for that, it is by co-operating as workers that we will best safeguard these most vital freedoms.

In the picture: Kate Goolde (Bindmans), Ewen MacAskill (The Guardian), Duncan Campbell (investigative reporter) and Jo Glanville. Tim Dawson is at the lectern. Photo: Ian McKenzie

Duncan Campbell was convinced by my case and filled in an NUJ application form on the spot.










Photographs © Ian McKenzie

Comments Off on Snoop to conquer: journalism under threat in the wake of the ‘Snowden’ revelations | Categories: National Union of Journalists, The practice of journalism

Mr Rights: honouring Mike Holderness, copyright warrior

15 April 2014 by timdawsn

Based on the citation I delivered, conferring on Mike Holderness NUJ membership of honour.

Mike Holderness might look like a mild-mannered, middle-aged anarchist – but the man we have before us is a warrior.  For the past quarter century, he has taken on the high command of global capitalism – determined to ensure that journalists obtained the full fruits of their industry – and more often than not, he has emerged victorious.

Beneath his cargo pants, labourer’s boots and spiky black hair, is possibly most determined, committed and imaginative campaigner I have ever had the privilege to call a colleague. I know that for some people here copyright is not their first industrial concern – but remember the words of Mark Getty: “intellectual property is the oil of the 21st century” he said, before he invested $80m on photographs – a large part of the fortune that his father has made in oil.

Mike Holderness’ life work has been to ensure that the copyright robber barons don’t have it all their own way.

Mike Holderness being presented with his NUJ member of honour certificate by Tim Dawson Picture: Mark Dimmock

Mike Holderness being presented with his NUJ member of honour certificate by Tim Dawson Picture: Mark Dimmock

I won’t list the international organisations that Mike has set up, contributed to or chaired – we don’t have time.  What I will say, is that when he speaks, the World International Property Organisation listens.  And let me share with you just one of his remarkable achievements.   We know that the new Copyright Small Claims Court is already ensuring that more writers and photographers get a fair deal.  The idea for that court was cooked up by Mike and John Toner one afternoon in the NUJ’s Freelance Office.  That it is now part of our justice system is evidence, if it were needed, that Mike is about far more than ‘blue skies’ thinking.  He has the contacts, the campaigning methods and the tenacity to push an idea from hair-brained scheme to a new wing of our justice system.

At times, his immersion in world copyright law can seem so complete that he appears to be speaking in a private language, it is true.  However the copyright guide book for journalists that he produced for the International Federation Of Journalists (The Right Thing)  is poetic in its clarity, simplicity and economy of language.

Mike was a very early adopter of computers.  Legion are the organisations in which he is active, and known as ‘lap-top Mike’.  Several fellow activists told me of occasions when Mike appeared to have given up on the proceedings around him, so immersed was he with his laptop.  A debate would rage for some minutes about a leaflet, or even a pamphlet that was needed.  Then, just as the discussion started to run out of steam, Mike would hold up his computer and say ‘is it something like this that is needed’ and show everyone the print-ready document that he had crafted while hot air was exchanged.

For the NUJ, of course, Mike’s technical contribution has been more significant than the production of leaflets.  More than 20 years ago – he created a website for London Freelance Branch.  It was – so far as we know – the first trades union website in Britain – quite possibly the world. He also wrote the software for, and maintains Rate For the Job on the LFB site, he wrote the technical specification for the NUJ’s freelance directory, and continues to produce the online Freelance Fees Directory.

I felt that I ought to be able to provide some account of the events that delivered Mike to the NUJ – and to say a bit about his background.  I am afraid, however, that a couple of weeks on the phone talking to his old contacts have not turned up anything salacious. Friends from other organisaions in which he is active have universally praised his contributions. Once they realised that this presentation was to be in public,  however, they clammed up.  “By all means tell people what a great help Mike has been to us” they have said.  “But keep the actual name of our organisation under your hat, if you don’t mind – walls have ears, you never know who is listening in”.

I have unearthed a few facts however. The earliest trace of Mike’s activism that I can find is from the late 1970s and The Scottish Campaign to Resist the Atomic Menace – which opposed the building of Torness power station near Edinburgh.  Mike had studied protests in the US – and introduced to that campaign novel techniques such as using affinity groups.

Mike Holderness, NUJ member of honour Picture: Mark Dimmock

Mike Holderness, NUJ member of honour Picture: Mark Dimmock

He later worked for Peace News, then based in Nottingham.  Colleagues remember his as ‘the only one who knew anything about how to actually do journalism’.  He was famous for staying up all night, pounding out words for the next issue, only to have to be shaken from his bed the next morning to present his ideas to at the morning meeting of the editorial collective.

Mike moved to Philledelphia for a while to work for the Movement For A New Society.  He did not forget his Peace News friends then, however. Some of you might remember the Spycatcher scandal of 1987.  The book, which alleged that MI5 officers had conspired to undermine a democratically-elected administration, was banned by the British Government.  Hard as it is to believe now, copies were impossible to obtain in this country.  When a package arrived at the offices of Peace News, bearing US stamps and addressed in Mike’s hand, his former colleagues were disappointed to find that the book within was called something like ‘A Buddhists Guide To Protest’.  More careful scrutiny, however, revealed a copy of Spycatcher inserted into the binding of this rather more mundane volume.  Reproducing some of its contents gave Peace News a famous scoop – being among the first British publishers to reproduce extracts from the book.

Since he came back to the UK, much of his professional life has been spent at The New Scientist.  But my sense is that campaigning on copyright is what he considers his most important work.

Today, such is his expertise on international and domestic copyright law that his views are frequently sought out by academics, lawyers and legislators.  Despite the esteem in which he is held in learned and some establishment circles these days, though, he remains an iconoclast. 

He is a familiar sight in the House of Lords tea room, discreetly lobbying and gathering intelligence.  His dress code, however, is unwavering.  So far as I can tell, he chooses his apparel so that he can move inconspicuously around a party at the neighbourhood squat, whatever event it is that he is attending.

His leisure interests are famously cerebral.  Once, during a lacuna at an NUJ Delegate Meeting, I noticed that he had slipped a copy of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason into his order paper, presumably to provide some light relief.

He is proficient, quite probably fluent, in several European languages – but I sense that he is happiest expressing himself in machine code or html.

Because of all of those qualities, and the friendship he has shown me, I have an enormously deep well of affection for Mike.  But it is for his work on intellectual property that I, and I think all of us, are eternally grateful to him. 

I know that he is a reluctant recipient of this award – fearing that it might be the equivalent of a ‘lifetime achievement award’.  Let me tell you quite clearly though, it is no such thing.  Of course this is a way of our saying ‘thank you’ for more than 25 years of extraordinary work – but it is also a pledge of our support for the next quarter century.

Comments Off on Mr Rights: honouring Mike Holderness, copyright warrior | Categories: Culture, National Union of Journalists, The practice of journalism

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