A campaign to force the NUJ to scrap its controversial boycott of Israeli goods was gaining momentum this week after some of the biggest names in UK journalism joined it.
Hundreds of journalists have signed a petition to force the union’s national executive ruling body to overturn the motion, proposed by Mick Gosling and passed at the this year’s annual delegates meeting in April by 66 votes to 54.
At least six union branches, including BBC London, ITN, Reuters, The Observer, Northern Ireland Broadcasting and Manchester, have passed motions calling for a reversal of the ban.
BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones has been a vocal critic of the boycott and as well as sending the petition to NUJ members across the country he last month started a blog, Stop the NUJ Boycott, keeping union members up to date with the campaign.
He told Press Gazette: ‘My whole reason for taking a stance is because I value the BBC’s reputation for impartiality. I’ve got no views on the Palestine-Israeli conflict whatsoever.
‘Some people who have signed the petition probably feel strongly on one side or the other, but what they really feel is that having an NUJ card which says ‘I’m not impartial’ when it comes to Israel is a real impediment to their work.”
Cellan-Jones said two BBC journalists had recently resigned from the NUJ over the boycott and that one BBC staffer who works in the Middle East has found his work harder since the ban.
‘He told me ‘I’m travelling with a BBC card on one side which says I’m a fair impartial journalist… and an NUJ card that says, well actually, I’m not impartial’.”
The motion from the ITN chapel calls for a new ballot on the issue. It reads: ‘As broadcasters and NUJ members we are dismayed at the passing of a motion calling for a boycott of Israeli goods.
‘As members of organisations which take pride in providing impartial news coverage, we cannot associate ourselves with a move which involves taking sides in any conflict.”
The Reuters’ motion said: ‘We believe motions that take sides on geopolitical matters divide the union’s membership and undermine the solidarity it needs to defend our professional interests and campaign for the freedom, safety and welfare of fellow journalists around the world.”
Jon Snow, the Channel 4 newsreader, told the Jewish Times: ‘I am completely outraged that the union that I joined and remain a member of to protect and work for the interest of journalists should take such a high-horse position on a private issue for countries and individuals themselves.’
NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear said: ‘Throughout our 100-year history NUJ members have engaged in debate about the rights and wrongs of particular democratic decisions.
‘Those who disagree with the decision can move motions at next year’s conference to amend any policy or decision they disagree with.
‘It is vital that those who want their union to concentrate on workplace issues take a greater role in shaping the future of the union.”