Saturday, 14 July 2007


This blog was started in late April as a response to the vote at ADM for a boycott of Israeli goods. At least five hundred NUJ members, through petitions or branch meetings, got involved in calls for a ballot on the issue. While we failed to get a ballot - the rules were always going to make that difficult to achieve - we did succeed in persuading the National Executive to issue a clear statement that the boycott would not be implemented. Here's the Guardian's account:,,2123001,00.html

Some NUJ officials - notably a couple who write to this blog - have suggested to me that the whole affair was a waste of time. There never was a boycott - merely a call for the TUC to organise one.

This strikes me as a complete misunderstanding of the importance of symbolism in both politics and journalism. The daft motion passed at ADM was never going to result in journalists refusing to buy laptops containing Israeli components or declining drugs developed by the Israeli pharmaceuticals industry. But it did send out a powerful message to the world that British journalists took sides - en masse - in this bitter international conflict.

Incidentally, I see no problem in individual journalists taking sides - unless they, like I do, work for organisations committed to impartiality. The problem is that the NUJ represents all of us - whether we write for a ferociously partisan publication or report for a broadcaster with impartiality rules - and so the union should not be taking stands which will embarrass many of its members.

So if it was important to resist this symbolic boycott, it was also important to recognise and applaud the symbolic climbdown by the NUJ's National Executive.

I have written some harsh words about Jeremy Dear on this blog, but I'd like to put on record my appreciation of the way he handled the conclusion of this affair. I'm told he led the discussions at the National Executive and used quiet diplomacy to bring about a result that should restore some unity to the union.

The 32 people who resigned over this affair - or at least those who contacted the NUJ to inform the union of their reasons for leaving - have now received an email from Jeremy Dear inviting them to rejoin. I'd like to encourage them to respond positively -if only to help reinforce the moderate wing of the union.

Because this is just the first chapter in what should become a campaign to reform the NUJ. Next year's ADM is likely to feature another 200 or so motions on everything from global warming to nuclear power to Venezuela - more issues which most of us feel are for individuals to care about, rather than for NUJ posturing.

Most of us are too busy to spend time at branch meetings, but let's try to make the effort to ensure that the people elected to represent us at ADM concentrate on issues that matter to us.

I think I am unlikely to be posting on this blog again in the near future - too much work to do in the real world, like, errr, buffing up my Facebook profile. So for those who have been - thanks for listening, and arguing. It's been (mostly) enjoyable.

Rory Cellan-Jones

Sunday, 8 July 2007


I’ve just heard what happened at the National Executive meeting on Friday – and I think it is cause for celebration. Unsurprisingly, the NEC said the rulebook did not allow a ballot on the boycott – but it then said that the boycott just isn’t going to happen because the TUC does not support it.

The motion passed unanimously by the NEC makes clear that the boycott call at ADM was aimed at persuading the TUC to implement the policy – and that has failed:

“Composite B calls not for an NUJ boycott but on the NUJ to support a labour movement/TUC organised boycott. In implementing Composite B the NUJ has sent the motion to the TUC. NEC notes the response from the TUC International Department setting out the TUC and the majority of affiliates' position on the boycott, in particular, that the "General Council is likely to take the position that this is not a priority for the PGFTU (in Palestine), still less the Histadrut, and would undermine our ability to act as go-betweens", and that "Congress, which has consistently supported the same approach, would also be (likely) to oppose the call".
NEC believes the latter from the TUC gives a decisive and final response to any call made by the NUJ to the labour movement as instructed by ADM.”

And here is the key phrase:
“NEC will take no further action on implementing this boycott call.”

In other words, the boycott is a dead duck.

This has only happened because more than 400 NUJ members at branches and chapels across Britain and Ireland made their voices heard – through branch and chapel meetings and petitions. I think we can be proud of what we have achieved.

I’ve also learnt that 31 people notified the union that they had resigned over the boycott policy. I know a number of us had discussed resigning if the boycott stayed in place. I have now decided that I will be staying in the union – and I would encourage others to stay and work towards making it more responsive to the views of the wider membership.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007


This Friday the National Executive of the NUJ meets – and the row over the Israel boycott will be on the agenda.

We have spent the last two and a half months expressing our dismay at our union’s foolish decision to take a one-sided view of the conflict in the Middle East - just the latest excursion into politics by a union which should be concentrating on looking after the interests of journalists.

Just as a reminder, this was the key paragraph in the motion passed at ADM:

“This ADM calls for a boycott of Israeli goods similar to those boycotts in the struggles against apartheid South Africa led by trade unions and the TUC to demand sanctions be imposed on Israel by the British government and the United Nations.”

A number of branches responded by passing motions critical of the policy, and the Broadcasting Industrial Council also condemned the boycott. Over 350 NUJ members have signed an online petition with this wording:

"As NUJ members we are dismayed at the passing of a motion at ADM calling for a boycott of Israeli goods. As members of a profession which prides itself on providing impartial news coverage, we cannot associate ourselves with this policy. 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. We call on the union to hold a ballot of all members to see whether they support the view taken at ADM on an issue which could have a profound effect on the way all British and Irish journalists are viewed at home and abroad."

We now wait to hear whether the National Executive will respond to the genuine concerns of many members who believe their reputation for impartial reporting is endangered when their union is so obviously seen to take sides.
We are already being warned that the Executive is powerless to intervene because ADM is the supreme policy-making body of the union. But I don’t think many of the officials understand how strongly members feel – and how damaging it will be if their concerns are ignored. We expect a serious discussion of this issue - and a proper response.

And please tell more NUJ colleagues about the petition - we don't have any access to members' emails so we're very dependent on word-of-mouth to spread it:

Thursday, 21 June 2007


This article in the Journalist by my BBC colleague Nick Serpell - who is on the NUJ's National Executive - sums up better than I could what we believe about the direction our union is taking:

I joined the NUJ for a variety of reasons. I wanted the assurance that I would have help and support if anything went wrong at work. The NUJ negotiates my annual pay deal and I did not believe it was right to take advantage of this without contributing to the union. I also believe in a free press and the right of all journalists to report the truth and keep the public informed without the fear of threats, intimidation or worse. Journalism matters and, long before the campaign of that name, it has always mattered to the NUJ.

What I and thousands of NUJ members did not do was join because we wanted to be political activists or have our subscriptions and the name of our union linked to campaigns and organisations which we either do not support, or which have nothing to do with journalists or journalism.

The recent decision by ADM to call for a boycott of Israel is just the latest in an attempt by some members to use the NUJ to pursue their own political beliefs. The same applies to the move to get us to affiliate to CND, happily defeated, or the current call for a ballot as to whether we should affiliate to the Campaign for Climate Change.

I have two main objections to those who would use the name of my union to support their own causes. Firstly impartiality and independence should be the watchwords of any journalist and it is particularly important for your fellow members who work in public service broadcasting. It undermines our ability to do our job if our union is taking a public stance on contentious issues.

Secondly, I do not want the money I pay each month to this union to be diverted into organisations which I do not support. If you, as an individual, want to join the Stop the War Coalition, boycott Israel or join CND you have every right to do so. But, don’t assume all your fellow members feel the same and don’t use my subscription, and link my name to your campaigns. I want my union to be concentrating on journalism and journalists, not acting as some sort of quasi political party.

I don’t think I am alone in this view. At the time of writing over 300 NUJ members in the BBC have signed a petition calling for the vote on the Israeli boycott to be reversed. That’s five times the number of people who supported it at ADM.

Other unions may want to play politics, but, in my view, we are not other unions. By all means follow your own beliefs in your own time, but let’s keep this union politically independent. We will be the stronger for it.

Keep signing the petition:


Tuesday, 19 June 2007

WHERE IS THE NUJ? which I mean the leadership.

I've just taken part in "World Have Your Say",a programme on the BBC World Service, which was debating boycotts. I was there as an NUJ member - not as a BBC reporter - stressing that my concern was not Middle Eastern politics but the fact that my union was taking sides in a bitter conflict, putting those members who value their reputation for impartiality in an impossible position.

And that conflict raged around the studio, with accusations flying back and forth between the pro and anti-boycotters, while I tried to keep my head down.

But there was one empty chair in the studio - it had been offered to the NUJ but over a period of two days the union failed to find anyone from the General Secretary downwards to fill it. It seems clear that the leadership just hopes this issue will go away. It won't.

Oh - and keep signing the petition:


Friday, 15 June 2007


Jeremy Dear, Tony Benn and David Aaronovitch debated the role of the NUJ in a new media world in a meting at the Frontline Club in Paddington on Friday evening. The discussion was lively, at times heated. The small audience was, by my reckoning, largely made up of NUJ officials or activists – and mostly sympathetic to the boycott. Here is an impartial (and we can debate that til the cows come home ) account of what was said.

David Aaronovitch warned that the NUJ had to be careful about a situation where “activists pull clear of where the members are.” He recalled his far-off days as President of the National Union of Students (I’m old enough to remember this former Communist as student leader). He said he would have seen a problem like the boycott coming and would have headed it off, and suggested it had got out of hand because of Jeremy Dear’s failure of leadership, Later he mounted an attack on Dear’s whole political approach to the job, accusing him of posturing: “You make it sound as if you are Lenin..” He wanted to know where the General Secretary actually stood on the boycott because he had given the impression that he was against it.

Jeremy Dear said others had assumed that was the case because he hadn’t voted for the motion at ADM – but that was simply because he didn’t have a vote. He explained that he was “frustrated” by the motion because it was a “distraction” but made it pretty clear that the rulebook did not allow any possibility of a ballot or any route to changing things. He admitted there were “deficiencies” in the union’s democracy but said he was just carrying out the duties of a General Secretary as set down in the rules: “it’s a no-win situation – I was elected to carry out union policy and ADM is the supreme policy-making body.”
He said the emails he had received about the issue (around 100) were evenly split. While eight branches and chapels had passed motions decrying the boycott, seven “had declined to do that”. (Surely that isn’t the same as being pro-boycott?).. I was no clearer after hearing Jeremy on whether he was for or against a boycott.

Tony Benn could not see what all the fuss was about. Everyone was at liberty to express their personal opinions – a journalist was no different in that from a doctor or a teacher. “this idea that journalists are special is so snobbish..” He personally favoured a boycott.

Speakers from the floor included Tim Gopsill, editor of The Journalist who said the NUJ was more democratic than the society in which it operated but:” The boycott call happened because the level of democratic participation is too low.”

A woman who said she had been a BBC representative at ADM said she had voted for the boycott policy and was proud to have done so: “It is a decision I took democratically. It is their(the opponents') problem.”

I said a few words supporting Aarononvitch’s warning about a union where activists lose touch with the membership and describing the difficulties for colleagues reporting from the Middle East while carrying two cards – a BBC ID which said you were impartial, and an NUJ card which said you were a biased reporter.

A man, who described himself as a former Today programme producer, said you could not be an impartial reporter in the Middle East if you did not understand the need for a boycott.

There followed a sane and interesting debate about what the NUJ’s role should be in setting standards in a new media world. But I found it difficult to concentrate, so shocked and depressed was I by the mood of the meeting.

If you believe that the NUJ’s role is to strike postures on everything from Hugo Chavez to the Middle East, then you would have been cheered by the views expressed at the Frontline Club. If, like me, you believe that the wider membership needs to reclaim the union and focus it on what really matters to them, then please sign this petition:


Here is a letter which the Guardian published this morning:

The UCU has called for discussion of an academic boycott of Israel. Its general secretary, Sally Hunt, makes it clear (Letters, June 14) that she opposes a boycott and would like the issue put to a ballot of all members. My own union the National Union of Journalists has gone much further. A motion passed at its conference calling for a boycott of Israeli goods is now union policy. Yet our general secretary sits on his hands, refusing to give leadership on this issue. Many NUJ members who value their reputations as impartial journalists are dismayed and embarrassed by their union's stance. Don't they at least deserve a ballot?
Rory Cellan-Jones

If you want to sign the petition calling for a ballot click here: