“Macho” evening paper work ethic criticised by tribunal

A journalist who sued newspaper publisher Archant for constructive unfair dismissal claiming the ‘vital bond’of trust between reporter and editor had broken down has had her case dismissed.

The 19-page employment tribunal panel ruling was generally scathing of the claims and apparent misconceptions which had led a reporter on the Norwich Evening News to bring the case against her employers.

But the ruling did contain criticisms of Archant over alleged long working hours for reporters and the “macho” ethic amongst journalists causing them to work overtime for no extra reward.

She had also claimed that the former editor of the Evening News  had lost his temper and badgered her during a disciplinary hearing when she left work to catch a train to London without completing a story to deadline.

The tribunal panel, although concluding that had, perhaps understandably, lost his temper and sworn at the hearing, ruled it was correct that she had been disciplined for leaving the office without permission.

She had eventually filed her copy by e-mail at 6.38pm and included a covering note saying: ‘I know I am in for a bollocking but I weighed it up and decided I couldn’t afford to miss my train.”

The ruling said: ‘She knew full well she should not have done what she did and she and she predicted that there would be consequences because of the way she behaved.”

The case was ‘unfortunate’and it was clear that she had been ‘miffed’about the refusal by senior editors to endorse her candidature for the EDF energy awards scheme, said the judgment.

She had submitted a series of articles for the awards about an alleged link between Ministry of Defence tests in the 60s involving the dropping of a toxic chemical called cadmium and the alleged high levels of throat cancer in Norfolk.

But the tribunal has heard that the paper’s deputy editor Tim Williams had received a phone call during the cadmium campaign from a BBC online reporter, who had carried out his own investigation, which cast doubt on figures used by the reporter in her reports.

 

At the four-day long tribunal, the reportern had disputed that her articles were inaccurate.

But the judgment noted: ‘Without wishing to be unkind to her, we are reminded of William Brown, the fictional eponymous hero of the ‘Just William’ stories who prided himself on his ability to keep an argument going longer than anyone he had ever met. He clearly had not met the claimant.”

The tribunal had heard claims that the reporter and other reporters worked long hours at the Evening News, although this did not form part of her claim.

Neverthless, the judgement noted: ‘We are firmly of the view that the newspaper, and indeed Archant, need to look urgently at their procedures for recording hours of work and for treating their employees properly and sensibly with regard to the hours that are put in.

‘We are concerned that no proper records are kept and no consideration appears to have been given to paying employees for extra hours.

‘There appears to be a slightly macho ethic amongst journalists that you work very long hours without any particular reward because that is the nature of the job and, to use a corny expression, ‘If you can’t stand the heat, keep out of the kitchen.'”

Turning to the case in general, the judgment said: ‘This is in many ways a rather unfortunate case. It became increasingly noticeable during the course of the hearing that the claimant found it extremely difficult to accept any point of view other than her own or to concede that from time to time others could form a different view and act accordingly without being in any way malicious or vindictive.”

With regard to the refusal to endorse the reporter’s candidature for the EDF energy awards, the judgement said: ‘There is nothing in the facts of this case to suggest that the employer has acted other than properly.”

The judgment concluded: ‘The claimant did not resign as a result of any, let alone a fundamental, breach of contract by the employer.”

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