FT chapel accuses NUJ leadership of 'shameful' attempt to 'limit debate' over alternative recovery plan

A row between NUJ officials and activists opposed to the union’s financial rescue plan has taken on new momentum as the its Delegates Meeting begins in Newcastle today.

The NUJ’s Financial Times chapel this week made a formal complaint (full text below) over a statement circulated by the NUJ attacking the chapel’s alternative rescue plan.

FT Father of Chapel Steve Bird was particularly critical of the union’s “ludicrous and shameful” accusation that its alternative plan was defamatory.

The complaint comes after NUJ president Donnacha DeLong wrote to all NUJ branches (full text below) ahead of this week’s delegate meeting saying it was “not a time for petty point-scoring or personal attacks”.

The split within the union centres on the financial rescue plan put forward by general secretary Michelle Stanistreet passed by the unions’s National Executive Council in May.

It came after Stanistreet warned the NUJ was facing a "severe financial crisis" and could run out of money and become insolvent by October

The plan has led to a number of voluntary redundancies as it looks to CUT staff costs by £400,000. The union also wants to increase subscriptions by 5 per cent and scrap NUJ-funded professional training activities.

Instead, training contracts could be put out to tender or administered and delivered by the General Federation of Trade Unions on behalf of the NUJ.

In September, a group of senior National Union of Journalists activists put their names to an open letter condemning the union's cost-saving recovery plan in support of the FT Chapel’s alternative.

Its suggestions included a £1,000 a year cap on expenses claimed by union lay officials and making union magazine The Journalist online-only. They also want to retain the union's in-house training department.

The union is also facING questions over a £45,000 pay-off made to former general secretary Jeremy Dear following his departure last year.

Here is the FT chapel’s letter to Stanistreet in full. The NUJ had not replied to a request for comment at the time of publication:

Dear Michelle,

I am writing to you and to the NEC to make a formal complaint about the treatment meted out to the Financial Times chapel and myself following our contribution to the debate about the financial crisis gripping our union. 

Please note that the following false information has been spread publicly in the press and via an apparently official "rebuttal" of the FT plan sent anonymously from Headland House.

We would like to know who wrote this, who distributed it and when and to whom it was sent.  On behalf of my chapel, I would like you to acknowledge and correct publicly the following incorrect assertions made by the anonymous author or authors. We ask that you or another NEC member raise this at the next NEC meeting.

1. That the FT Alternative Plan is "defamatory". I note that this ludicrous and shameful accusation has not been repeated to the press - neither to the Press Gazette nor holdthefrontpage.co.uk - nor is it in your emailed reply to our plan sent to some members of the FT chapel on 19 September.

Anyone who has read our document will know that we ask tough questions and voice some theories about the present crisis but we do not even make "allegations" let alone defame anyone. All of our evidence is based on published NUJ reports. The use of this word defamatory in this context discredits us all as journalists. It may also, of course, have served to limit the circulation of the plan.

The absurd charge was first made at the last NEC meeting and is included in the eight-page criticism of the Alternative Plan which has apparently had quite wide circulation within the union but has never been sent directly to me or to the FT chapel committee. The allegation was also repeated three times by NEC member David Campanale in a communication with the BBC reps and this, too, was never sent to me by its author.

2. That the FT chapel has been undemocratic. This allegation was made by an unspecified NUJ source in a story on holdthefrontpage.co.uk who asserted that critics of your Recovery Plan had not gone "through the appropriate democratic structures".

This was only days after we had done just that - in submitting the Alternative Plan to every NEC member (apart from yourself and your deputy, whom we assumed were not members of the committee) even though their email addresses are no longer available on the NUJ website.

We have publicly expressed regret that time constraints meant it arrived only the day before the meeting but we note that your original plan itself was given to NEC members only 48 hours before that previous meeting. We note also that our plan originated from a particularly well-attended chapel AGM that voted unanimously to mandate chapel officers to intervene in the debate about our finances by examining union accounts.

3. We have been accused of tweeting and publicising the Alternative Plan before sending it. We have never tweeted on this subject - @ftnuj - and we posted it on the FT chapel blogsite 12 days after the NEC meeting - and then only in an anonymised form. We believe that naming individuals concerned in expenses anomalies is best left to internal documents.

4. The anonymous critic of the Alternative Plan asserts that its authors "refused to meet" finance manager Bernard Roche. This is false. We sought information from him and thanked him for his efforts. He or they also assert that we "smeared" John Barsby. The authors of the Alternative Plan had never heard Mr Barsby's name before writing the document.

It was and is relevant to ask questions of the chair of the finance committee, especially if his expenses have regularly been double those of the General Secretary. Describing such enquiries as a smear looks very much like an attempt to discredit the report's authors and avoid questions about financial transparency.

5. Apart from the cloak of anonymity, most shameful of all is that these allegations have been made about, but never to, the report's authors - via myself as both co-author and the person submitting the plan. Instead of an open and democratic debate about the crisis facing the union, we have had to hear third-hand of our union leaders trying to dismiss and discredit our efforts in secret. We received no official communication on this subject for two months and have still not received even a list of emails for NEC members asked for on 31 July, let alone the "follow-up" requested.

I know that many NEC members will have been participating in discussions in branches and chapels before this week's conference. I hope that you will use the details in this email to correct any false impressions fostered about the Alternative Plan and its aims. 

More broadly, I am concerned that some members of our union leadership may have been party to a dishonourable effort to limit debate in the NUJ. 

Naturally, any response to the factual content of this unofficial "rebuttal" has been held up by union's failure to send it to us (bar your response just over a week ago) but I hope that we will have more thoughts and supplementary questions on these important issues before DM.

I look forward to hearing the results of any discussion of this by the NEC,

Yours

Steven Bird

FoC, FT Group NUJ Chapel

The FT chapel is holding a fringe meeting at the NUJ conference tonight at 7.30pm in the Leazes suite where it be discussing the Alternative Plan and the Financial Crisis for the NUJ.

Here is the email sent by DeLong to NUJ branches and signed by a number of his predecessors in the role dating back to 1973:

Dear friends,

We are writing to all NUJ branches to urge union activists to unite and rally behind the union's leadership during this difficult period.

Since the birth of our union, we have had to face up to crises that impacted severely on the organisation of our union leading, from time to time, to painful contractions and restructuring.

The current deepening global crisis, which is engulfing our media, is much worse. Employers everywhere are responding by slashing budgets and gutting newsrooms with direct effect on the way we work, undermining journalists' terms and conditions and threatening the future of good quality, responsible journalism. This is having an undeniably damaging effect on our membership and on the union's income.

We recognise and pay tribute to our officials, chapel reps and branch activists who are leading the fightback and keeping the union relevant to all its members. Now is a time for unity and action.

We are all united in nurturing the NUJ as the voice of journalists. At the Leveson inquiry, we have proved that we have the credentials to speak on behalf of journalists and to defend journalism and a host of democratic values.

Despite the issues raised at the inquiry - and never forget it was the work of a journalist that exposed the rot - journalism remains a profession worth defending and we need a strong, united, resourceful and well financed union to do this. To ensure the union remains strong and moves towards a more robust financial situation, we need to make some painful adjustments.

Our next delegate meeting in Newcastle is the forum that will shape our union's recovery. We urge you to:

1. Unite behind our leadership's plans for the NUJ's survival, which have been endorsed by the executive. By then, the restructuring of our staff will have been put in motion;

2. Support the appeal by our executive for an increase in subscriptions to allow the union the financial breathing space to readjust to the challenging times ahead. As an independent collective, we have no alternative but to rely on the generosity of our members to keep our autonomy;

3. Get involved with the union's programme to recruit more members and open up new recruiting opportunities in every section of the media - from broadcasting and new media to local newspapers and PR - as part of the major effort to increase our revenues and financial stability;

4. Ensure that DM is a critical but constructive forum where the future of the union and journalism is central to all our decision making. This is not a time for petty point-scoring or personal attacks.

5. Join us in maintaining our union as a member-led union with not just the determination but also the resources to be a strong, independent and respected voice for journalism and journalists.

Not for the first time the NUJ finds itself at a crossroads. The signatories to this letter have all held the elected role of NUJ president, like Michelle herself, so we know that NUJ decisions are not always easy. But real leadership in the NUJ is exercised by delegates sent by their branches to our Delegate Meeting.

The decisions we make will determine the future of the NUJ. It is a time for courageous and responsible leadership by all the delegates attending. The NUJ Recovery Plan is well considered and represents the way forward. We urge all members to support the Plan, accept the sacrifice entailed in the subscription increase and play your part in maintaining the NUJ as a great and independent union.

Respectfully yours, in solidarity, Donnacha Delong, President (2011-2012)

Peter Murray, President (2009-2011)
James Doherty, President (2008-2009)
Jim Corrigall, President (2004-2005)
George Macintyre, President (2003-2004)
John Barsby, President (2002-2003)
Christy loftus, President (1999-2000)
Jeremy Dear, President (1996-1998)
Anita Halpin, President (1994-1995)
John Toner, President (1993-1994)
Jim Boumelha. President (1992-1993 jobshare) Chris Frost, President (1991-1992)
David Sinclair, President (1990-1991 )
Scarlett MccGwire, President (1988-1989 jobshare) Lionel Morrison (President 1987-1988)
Eddie Barrett, President (1983-1984)
Francis Beckett, President (1980-1981)
John Devine, President (1977-1978)
Rosaline Kelly, President (1975-1977)
John Bailey, President (1973-1974)

MORE ON THIS STORY : 

Tags: 

Sign up for our free weekly digital magazine, Press Gazette Journalism Weekly, and daily newsletter
To contact Press Gazette with a story call 0207 936 6433
or email pged@pressgazette.co.uk
To advertise, please call 0207 936 6764.