UK report urges protection of conscience for journalists

A report by Lord Justice Leveson, who conducted An inquiry into the culture, ethics and practice of the press, includes a recommendation that a protection of conscience clause should be included in journalist contracts.  The subject is addressed in Volume 2 (p. 724) and Volume 4 (p. 1705, 1799) and follows upon his observation that journalists were reluctant or afraid to contest unethical or illegal activities they encountered, and that this seemed related to lack of protection for those acting on conscientious conviction.

In his executive summary, Lord Leveson said, “I was struck by the evidence of journalists who felt that they might be put under pressure to do things that were unethical or against the code. I therefore suggest that the new independent self-regulatory body should establish a whistle-blowing hotline and encourage its members to ensure that journalists’ contracts include a conscience clause protecting them if they refuse.”

The recommendation is strongly supported by the National Union of Journalists (NUJ).  The General Secretary gave evidence at the inquiry “on behalf of journalists too frightened to speak out openly for fear of the impact on their careers.” [Morning Star]  Commenting on the report, she said, “”A journalist should always have the right to refuse assignments and no journalist should be disciplined or suffer detriment to their career for asserting his or her right to act ethically.”[Morning Star]

The International Federation of Journalists and the European Federation of Journalists have welcomed the recommendation for a “conscience clause,” noting that such clauses can be found in many European collective agreements. [IFJ]

While health care and journalistic environments are signficantly different, there is no principled reason to suppose that freedom of conscience for health care workers is less important than freedom of conscience for journalists.


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