UK’s National Union of Journalists omits religion from anti-discrimination rules

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LONDON— The National Union of Journalists with 38,000 members has not updated its rules for members since three years before the Equality Act came into force in 2010, requiring religion to be included as a “protected characteristic” in the workplace.

The NUJ leaves out the religion category in its rulebook on which its members’ responsibilities are based, while specifying it is “implacably opposed to discrimination and prejudice” on grounds of gender, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, age or disability.

Despite 47 references to “equality” in the rulebook, religion gets one mention only – in an obscure Appendix on “harassment”.

Its famous Code of Conduct mentions “creed” in terms of a commitment not to “produce material likely to lead to hatred or discrimination” – which is at odds with responsibilities elsewhere on the website.

The members’ responsibilities omit religion.  They state, in a section titled “Strength in Diversity”: “The NUJ does not regard prejudicial language or comments about people on the grounds of gender, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, age or disability as acceptable behavior among its members.”

Chairman of the NUJ’s Ethics Council, Emeritus Professor Chris Frost, told Religion Unplugged that, “Since the rules are driven by members’ interests I can only assume it is not something members feel they want to discuss.”    

Frost said that the rulebook had never had religion and belief as part of the code or of members’ responsibilities.

“This section of the code and the responsibilities were last amended in 2007, but there was no discussion about religion or belief,” he said.

This could mean that the most important journalism body in the country is at the least, reinforcing secularism as a default worldview. 

Said the Evangelical Alliance’s Head of Public Policy, Simon McCrossan: “In 2019, it is surprising that such a considered document which references legal protected characteristics, should appear to omit religion or belief.” 

Meeting a “Religious Literacy Deficit”

Professor Frost’s view that journalists’ interests drive the rules could be mistaken.

The NUJ held its first ever conference on religion, Reporting Belief: When Religion Makes the News, at the ITV Studios in Cardiff, Wales in 2016, to meet what its organizer Angela Graham, called “a religious literacy deficit” in the industry. 

Speakers included eminent broadcaster Roger Bolton, and BBC Producer Innes Bowen. 

She addressed parliament following the launch of her book Medina in Birmingham Najaf in Brent: Inside British Islam in 2014.

Gareth Jones, journalist at BBC Cymru Wales, described the conference as “a much-needed and timely event – and we were reminded today of how little we know about religions.

“Without knowledge, we can’t report on and challenge the more problematic aspects of religion and if we don’t do that, extremism flourishes and people retreat into their own echo chambers.” 

Professor Frost believes the Equality Act 2010 applies to members as it does to everyone else.

“However, it doesn’t require us to amend our code or membership responsibilities as these are additional to any legislation,” he added. 

The Trades Union Council (TUC) which works on behalf of all unions at the national level states that “Union reps have a key role in supporting colleagues with religion or belief and those without.”

It adds: “You also have a role to play in ensuring that employers meet their legal obligations and consider any religion or belief request.”

A TUC spokesman said: “We do not speak on behalf of our affiliates in matters that relate directly to them.”