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Many have been shocked by my series of revelations exposing how ‘NUJ Left’ is seeking to seize control of the national union of journalists.
I am running as a candidate in the election for the editor of the NUJ’s magazine, the Journalist, with what I believe is a really good, clear programme. I want to increase the magazine’s frequency; break more stories about our industry, while maintaining strong features; and launch a proper website.
My vision is for a magazine focussed on profess-ional and work-place issues that matter to NUJ members as journalists. I would ensure that the Journalist is independent from any party, including the NUJ “leadership”. NUJ members have only until November 16 to vote with their postal ballots.
As the campaign unfolded, I discovered how a political faction inspired by the socialist workers party (SWP) is close to hijacking our union, and, as part of its plan, wanted to usher in Richard Simcox – who was elected onto its steering committee last May – to the job of Journalist editor.
As a journalist, my duty is to report – even uncom-fortable truths – not to censor. NUJ members had a right to know. Unlike some, I believe that the union is worth saving.
I have had amazing feedback, and most journalists have shared my astonishment at the threat to the union posed by “NUJ Left”. By contrast, people in – or on the fringes of – the SWP-inspired faction have cried foul.
My most prominent critic has been Roy Green-slade, media commentator of The Guardian, who described my investigation as a “sham”.
He was forced to apologise for a second piece for calling into question my “mental health”. I had complained to the editor of The Guardian, saying that it was utterly inappropriate.
I do not expect Greenslade to be rational in his comments, as indeed he was not, so I made no complaint about that. There has been far worse in the “blogosphere”. The “NUJ Left” gang effected its own version of the scientologists’ “fair-game” strategy in which anyone who dares to criticise them are treated with an array of hysterical smears (as can be witnessed in the Guardian discussion threads).
I pointed out that while such a piece was the norm on obscure blogs, it should not be published by a proper journalist on a national newspaper’s website.
The initial response of The Guardian was swift: Greenslade amended the article and published an apology.
But why had Greenslade dismissed my investig-ation as a “sham” when he failed to address the main revelations?
He apparently laughed aloud at my suggestion that Simcox “was some kind of secret leftie”. If so, then Greenslade had missed the point.
My revelation was that “NUJ Left” had fielded a candidate without a proper declaration being made to the voters: in the mass of election material sent with the ballot papers, the e-mail circular sent to members via the NUJ, or even on the candidate’s campaign website.
Moreover, my e-mail circular revealed to our union’s members that “NUJ Left” acts like a political party by seeking, as it says itself, to “propagate NUJ Left aims and objectives, and any agreed policies, across the union,” ensuring “senior lay and elected left officials are accountable to NUJ Left.”
And, its aims include: “Identifying and targeting key elected posts and NEC seats, democratically agreeing slates for elections, and campaigning for NUJ Left candidates, to advance our influence.”
Greenslade simply failed to address my sub-sequent revelation that some NUJ staff members were taking time off to campaign for – not merely endorse – the “NUJ Left” candidate in the election. I had obtained an e-mail proving that the NUJ’s campaigns and communications officer, Miles Barter, who was also elected onto the faction’s “steering committee” last May, was actively campaigning for the political group’s candidate.
Greenslade said that my revelations were “akin to exposing Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson as members of the Labour party.” But he overlooked the difference between Labour and “NUJ Left”: the latter denies acting like a political party. Greenslade implicitly, albeit accidentally, endorsed one of my key revelations: “NUJ Left”, despite being an undeclared political party organising within the NUJ, behaves just like one.
Then I revealed how the Trotskyist SWP helped to re-launch “NUJ Left” last November as a vehicle to take control of the union.
Greenslade attempted to dismiss this article by, first, saying that he was worried about my mental health, and then ignoring the main point of the piece, as was clearly set out in the headline and intro.
Greenslade failed to make what I regard as proper declarations of interest that were highly relevant to the subject.
Indeed, he suggested that he had none to make. In his first article, he wrote: “Let me make it clear. I have no axe to grind. I spoke at the NUJ Left meeting in February – alongside the wonderful Nick Jones – but I did so as a supporter of journalism, not the union or NUJ Left. Simcox has often criticised me harshly... so I cannot be construed as a friend or supporter of his.”
But it transpired that Greenslade was listed as a supporter on Simcox’s Facebook campaign page.
This was revealed in the comment thread after Greenslade’s first article by someone apparently using the pseudonym, “Nick Carraway”, the name of a character in Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby.
Greenslade responded: “I am not a Rich-Simcox-for-editor-of-The-Journalist supporter. I'm baffled by the inclusion of my name on the Facebook site that suggests otherwise.”
Someone using the name “Daisy Fay”, another character in The Great Gatsby, added a comment that increased pressure on the point.
And those anonymous commenters later made postings in the discussion that suggest they are “NUJ Left” supporters.
The key question for The Guardian is: why exactly might “NUJ Left” supporters be upset that Green-slade had denied supporting Simcox?
Greenslade is indeed listed as a member of the relevant Facebook group and, as I told The Guardian, such inclusion was surely made with his express agreement.
Following my complaint, Greenslade’s initial response was: “It has been suggested that I failed to declare that I was a supporter of Rich Simcox on Facebook. I reiterate what I have said before: I was totally unaware of that fact. It appears that I may have inadvertently responded to a Facebook friend request. What I can say, unequivocally, is that I am not a Simcox supporter nor am I an NUJ Left supporter.”
Well, employing the journalistic jargon favoured by Guardian commentators: hmm.
Declaring more interests
team at Sunday Business made many of the revelations in the Mirror
share-dealing affair. You should have heard how Piers Morgan, the then editor,
squealed as we exposed him.
Of course, the Mirror would have been spared the pain of such excruciating scrutiny – and, indeed, stopped me from having so much fun – had it declared when publishing an article by the two “City Slickers” ramping the share-price of a little-known computer company that they – and their editor – had just bought shares in it.
Many “NUJ Left” supporters in this election debate have shown that they do not understand the importance of declarations of interest. But a proper journalist such as Greenslade does. And yet in his first article he failed even to mention the working relationship that he had had with me. He did so only belatedly and disingenuously in the comment thread.
He appeared as a guest two years ago for two editions of the daily newspaper review programme that I presented and executive produced, Between the Headlines, on Press TV.
In addition, Kevin Cahill, an investigative journalist with whom I have worked on many projects, challenged Greenslade in the discussion thread: “Before castigating Mark Watts for his attack, not on the left, because he is left-leaning himself, but on a failure to declare a political affiliation in an election address, perhaps you should have mentioned your own far-left background, Roy?”
Greenslade responded: “My own left-wing back-ground is a matter of public record. Read my book, Goodbye to the Working Class.”
A friend saved me from that fate by digging out from a 1997 edition of the New Statesman a review written by Greenslade on a book about SWP’s origins. He wrote: “The communist party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) was, at least during my membership some 20 years ago, Maoist.”
Just why was Greenslade quite so coy about making proper declarations with his article that were plainly pertinent to the subject upon which he professed to make disinterested comment?
Perhaps he will do so now.
Mark Watts – freelance journalist, broadcaster and FOIA Centre co-ordinator – is standing in the election on the basis that the new editor of the Journalist should be an independent journalist at heart – not a politicised activist. He is not a member of any political party or group. The Channel 4 news presenter, Jon Snow, and
an army of other eminent journalists from all corners of the media industry, and from across the UK and Ireland, have backed his election bid.
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