Johnston Press bosses are coming under more pressure after the NUJ reported the company to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) for compromising editorial standards.
According to the Union, the PCC has asked JP to respond to claims its new editorial content system, ATEX, is putting accuracy at risk.
The NUJ wrote to the PCC following a memo from Paul Bentham, Managing Director of the group’s South Yorkshire titles, to editors and senior journalists, setting out new rules following the introduction of ATEX.
Mr Bentham’s note said all editors are not permitted to change pre-prepared templates ‘on the fly’, that a right first time policy must be ’embedded into newsroom culture’ and that editors should not ‘ continue with the old practice of reading every story’.
He added that a set percentage of pages must be completed at various stages before each paper’s deadline; namely 25 per cent five days before deadline, 50 per cent three days ahead, 75 per cent two days ahead and 90 per cent four hours from deadline.
NUJ Northern Organiser Chris Morley wrote to the PCC highlighting the union’s concerns.
He wrote: ‘I know that you and the PCC are now aware of the recent instruction to Johnston Press editors in South Yorkshire regarding ATEX. The memo from the managing director contains a number of extremely worrying developments which strike at the heart of an Editor’s responsibilities.
“I believe it is important for the PCC to take a formal view on this as the PCC’s code is written in to JP employees’ contracts. I’m hopeful that the company will think again, in light of the seriousness of our concerns.
‘But if employees were to carry out these instructions of the company, it is entirely possible that editors and other journalists will be in breach of the code and therefore their contracts, not to mention the NUJ Code of Conduct if they are a member.
‘This is an intolerable position for our members to find themselves in and if a case arose where the fault for a substantial inaccuracy lay with inadequate checking (as directed by the aforesaid memo) where would the PCC put the blame – on the individual editor or the company whose procedures had created the conditions for the complaint to arise?”
NUJ General Secretary Jeremy Dear said: “This makes a mockery of Johnston Press’s stated commitment to editorial independence and puts editors and senior journalists in an intolerable position. It is yet another sign that ATEX is purely about commercial imperatives not about improving journalism”.
State of Play: A dagger to the heart