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Last week’s policy committee considered its usual wide range of issues. Progress on conference motions was reported, a written update on the work by our representative Pat Healey on the National Pensioners Convention (NPC) was received. The NPC was the driving force behind the ‘Protect our Welfare State and Public Services March and Rally’ held in London on Saturday 10 April which was supported by the NUJ and other trades unions, although it did not get much media attention.

Under the parliamentary reports there was a discussion on the Digital Economy Act. This is important for us and there are differing opinions within the union on some outcomes from the so called ‘wash up’ – especially from our freelance writer members, following the defeat of clause 43. This clause would have allowed organisations like the British Library and other publishers to publish so called ‘orphan works’ – work whose owners could not be traced. Our freelance writer members saw clause 43 as the best of a bad job which would at least allowed consultations to continue with government on improved efforts to find the owners of works who publishers claim they could not find. Our photographer members on the other hand welcomed the defeat of the clause, believing that if passed it would allow publishers to take their works without paying for it by claiming that the owners could not be traced! The differing opinions of course could raise constitutional problems for us in the future i.e. who decides what the union’s policy is in such circumstances (the NEC between delegate meetings I would have though, answering my own question). And we also have an active new media industrial council of members who also have views. So it could be quite a mix!

Where we were agreed was on the need for opposition to proposals that internet service providers could ultimately cut off broadband access to persistent down-loaders of ‘illegal material’ such as films or music (‘a sledgehammer to crack a nut’ said former MP Austin Mitchell). There could also be legal challenges to the Act from internet service providers. We discussed a paper written by NUJ vice president Donnacha DeLong covering this and other aspects of the new Act, which he is to amend as a result of points raised at the meeting. It will then go to the NEC at our next meeting on 14/15 May to be debated. Following that meeting the union should be in a position to respond to the regulator Ofcom, who from May will be consulting on implementing aspects of the Act.

Of course the whole way the bill was finally rushed through in the dying hours of the last parliament was a shambles and even by parliamentary standards unsatisfactory and undemocratic, with the discussion on such a complex and ambitious bill being cut to the bone!

There was also a brief discussion on the recent report of the Commons Culture Committee on the future for local and regional media. This subject is of great concern to us and the report was presented to parliament in its dying days and will be left for the new government to respond to, probably in June. Amongst other things, the report recommended that the Office of Fair Trading should investigate the impact council funded free newspapers were having on regional and local papers. We of course have members in both fields of journalism and the London based Press and PR branch is concerned about how such a report could impact on jobs of our members working on such publications and that’s before the next round of local authority cuts – which could see a reduction in funding for these publications and subsequent loss of jobs.

Finally an update on the future of TUC annual congress. At the last policy committee we asked for more information, including some details of costs and projected savings, around the proposals to hold a smaller, shorter, London based congress in alternate years. As a result it seems that we have now missed the closing date for comments, although they can be presented verbally at the next meeting of the general council. It seems that the majority of unions (21 representing 72% of the affiliated membership) support the proposals or believe that there was value on discussing the idea in more detail. There was also the thorny problem of agreeing a formula for delegate numbers to the smaller congress. All this also requires a rule change at this year’s congress.

It was accepted by the committee that the majority of unions seemed to support the smaller congress in alternate years, but that the TUC should organise fringe and other meetings/activities around the smaller London based congress, as a way of involving ‘rank and file’ union members in the life of the shorter congress.

Finally we spent a short amount of time discussing business for the European Federation of Journalists annual meeting due to start next day in Istanbul (16/18 April). However, we did not know at the time that three out of the four delegates would never get off the ground, but that is as they say, another story (see ‘Grounded’ on my blog)!