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: