Friday, 25 May 2007


Just some quick thoughts on how much progress our campaign for a ballot on the boycott has made. Our petition to the National Executive has now been signed by more than 300 BBC members.
BBC London branch has passed a motion calling for a ballot - and other motions calling for the policy to be dropped have been passed by chapels or branches in Manchester, Belfast, the Observer, and ITN. The Broadcasting Industrial Council has also described the boycott as "problematic".
The policy committee of the National Executive will discuss the issue in June - but the full National Executive will not consider our motion until July. Plenty of union officials are suggesting that nothing can be done, that ADM is the supreme policy-making body, and that we will just have to wait until next year's conference to try to reverse the policy. We need to get more branches to pass motions before July to convince the executive that they can't get away with just sitting on their hands.

Here is some news from the Times Higher Education Supplement illustrating the damage done to our reputation for impartiality:

"Steven Weinberg, who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1979, was planning to visit Imperial College London in July to speak in honour of Pakistani physicist Abdus Salam and to give a talk at a conference on particle physics.
But in a letter, reproduced in today's Times Higher, to his host at Imperial, Michael Duff, Professor Weinberg said he already had mixed feelings about visiting the UK because he perceived a "widespread anti-Israel and anti-Semitic current" running through British opinion.
He decided to cancel the engagement after the National Union of Journalists voted to boycott Israeli products at its annual meeting in April
. "

On another matter, I have rejected a number of comments to this blog - not because I wanted to censor them but because they were anonymous and so not clearly from NUJ members. This is meant to be a forum for union members - whatever their views on the issue.


whealie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
whealie said...

The London Magazine Branch of the NUJ debated whether or not the NUJ should be political and has launched a blog on the subject. You can actually listen to the hour and 20 minute debate in full there too (should you wish)
London Magazine debate blog
BBC NEC member Nick Serpell put the no position.
It was a useful debate.
Putting the Israel issue aside, which is difficult, most people agreed the union should be political but questioned the processes that led to the decisions being made.
The important thing is for more members to get active, get along to branch meetings and to ADM so that things can be changed.
I personally think the union has to be political - even though I did lead the campaign for a No vote against having the political fund because that looked to me like the door opening to being party political.
I'll make an admission: I did not vote on this issue at ADM. I was out of the room when it was debated - you cannot be in the room all the time and I felt this was irrelevant so snuck out during it. I happened to be back in just as the vote was called, and, as chief scrutineer, had to organise counting the votes.
A good 30 or so delegates did not vote on the motion.
I still think the motion is irrelevant. It has been blown out of all proportion.
I and many other NUJ members have covered industrial relations for many years and, as far as I am aware, have never been accused of bias just because we belonged to a trade union.
Our impartiality is of our own making, for us to give up should we wish to do so, but not for our union to take away.
Chris Wheal

Rory Cellan-Jones said...

You may think the motion was irrelevant and has been blown up out of all proportion - you must have been a journalist for long enough to know that's exactly what happens when a dull conference manages to produce one story. It has painted us - in the view of quite a few people (see the THES piece) - as biased. And as BBC journalists under constant attack from those who claim that we are not impartial we can't afford to sit and watch our union put us in this position.

whealie said...

The conference discussed pay and conditions, the journalism matters campaign and a very serious debate about ethics and a revised code of conduct - the first major revision since 1936.
There was also a student conference where a new model agreements over student press freedom was drawn up.
And there was a fringe on the integtration of print, broadcast and new media.
That's just a few of the real highlights in my opinion.
A few lazy/negligent/malicious (I don't know their motivation)journalists concentrated on this one vote. The pro-Israeli lobby, which is disproportionately powerful, latched on to it (or maybe drove the coverage).
In reality - and to those of us active within the union - it was a sideshow and should be treated as such.
However, some practical lessons you can take are:
1. There is no scope in the rules for the NEC to organise a ballot of the entire membership to overturn ADM. You would have to call a Special Delegate Meeting, at vast expense, and I cannot see that being agreed to.
2. So, instead, lobby the NEC,get a motion up saying something like: This NEC agrees to ignore the wishes of ADM over motion number whateveritwas and not to boycott Israel. Once passed, you can publicise this to appease all the naysayers. This will have achieved your short-term aim much faster than trying to call for a ballot. The next NEC meeting is a few weeks away. You could have victory in your hands then.
3. Don't forget that all the NEC members who vote for this motion will be hated by ADM delegates for disobeying the soveraign body of the NUJ. So, make sure you and your fellow activists get along to every branch meeting between now and then and stand for election and make sure you vote against the censure motions and the reference back of relevant annual report sections that will follow. Otherwise you will have deserted the people who supported you.
As a matter of principle, all delegates ought to agree to censure any NEC that disobeys ADM's instructions so you will need to come up with a convincing arguments for why they should swallow their principles and let the NEC get away with it. You could put a motion up to ADM yourself but you should certainly campaign among branches to get them to take positions on this, binding their delegates not to censure the NEC.
4. Think about the structure of the union and how this decision came about. Try to come up with alternative but democratic decision-making processes. At least get your branches to support motions calling for a review of branch structure (this gets rejected each year because it threatens those activists whp would net get elected as delegates if the astructure were more inclusive - we are not allowed to use web and email to make decisions, for example).
5. In the meantime, get together with your branch ADM delegates and make sure you put in submissions to the review of ADM procedures that is due to take place. Share your thoughts with other branches (I am very interested). Let's hold London-wide meetings on the subject at least.
In short, concentrate on the NEC, not on a ballot.