Last week’s meeting of the NUJ’s 30-member National Executive Committee (NEC) is being widely interpreted as being critical of the methods and decisions made by the smaller five-member Emergency Committee just three weeks ago.
The meeting came the day after an EPUK survey revealed that 84% of NUJ photographer members said their opinion of the union had been damaged by the controversy, with the NUJ rated less able to protect photographers’ interests than either the Association of Photographers and the British Press Photographers Association.
EPUK understands that the NEC received motions from around six branches and chapels expressing discontent at the Emergency Committee’s decision and the manner in which it was made.
The NEC could not specifically discuss the Emergency Committee’s decision to ratify the house agreement under its own rules which place a six month time bar on re-debating committee decisions, but it did vote unanimously that it had “complete confidence in all the full-time and chapel officials involved in negotiating the agreement”.
But while the motion did not directly criticise the Emergency Committee’s decision, it goes on to ensure that both the decision and the manner in which it was made would be extremely unlikely to reoccur.
Decision “the product of unique circumstances”
The motion passed at the full NEC meeting, which appears to be specifically worded to address the concerns of union photographers, states that “the Drogheda Independent agreement was the product of unique circumstances”
Concerning the controversial house agreement clause which allowed journalists to take photographs, the motion states: “It is not intended that Clause 6.1 in its entirety should be considered a model clause.”
Last week’s EPUK survey revealed that the clause was supported by only 1.4% of photographers, and was opposed by 80.3%.
The motion went on to ask that a model clause be drawn up for future eventuality. and a second motion was passed, stating : “The NEC notes that Clause 6.1 of the Drogheda Independent Agreement seeks to ensure that the NUJ will have a direct role in the implementation of new work practices governing the use of digital cameras by reporters.
“NEC affirms that any model agreement must recognise the vulnerable position of professional photographers in the emerging media landscape.”
Carefully worded rebuke
Last weekend’s NEC meeting also delivered a carefully-worded rebuke to the conduct of the emergency NEC at the previous meeting, when the committee members instructed that their deliberations would be made in private, contrary to a long-standing rule that states that all NUJ officials could attend and address any union meeting.
While Irish Secretary Seamus Dooley was invited to remain in the room throughout the whole meeting, union president Michelle Stanistreet instructed that other officials including Freelance Organiser John Toner and assistant organiser Pamela Morton should leave the room while deliberations were made. Both Toner and Morton are seen by grassroots union members as strong and respected advocates of photographers’ interests within the union.
According to the Emergency Committee minutes, when challenged whether this was proper procedure, Stanistreet told the meeting that “while the rules gave the right of officials to attend and speak at meetings, this did not give the the right to stay through the entire meeting”. The minutes do not give the reason why the committee members chose to apply this interpretation to exclude Toner but not Dooley.
At the full NEC meeting, Emergency Committee members Anita Halpin, Michelle Stanistreet, James Doherty and John Barsby continued to argue that their earlier decision to exclude certain salaried NUJ officials from their deliberations was justified.
But by a majority of twelve to ten, the full committee reaffirmed the right of all officials to attend all meetings, with several of those present left with the impression that if General Secretary Jeremy Dear had been present, the meeting would have been handled very differently.
The NEC meeting also resolved to prepare a clear set of rules concerning the running of union-sanctioned email lists, after an application by Irish Secretary Seamus Dooley to join the photographers’ NUJPhoto discussion list began a series of events which ultimately ended in the list’s sudden closure.
NUJPhoto was founded by NEC member Pete Jenkins two years ago and at his request was endorsed as an official list shortly afterwards. It was funded by the union, but run independently with rules that stated that membership was at the discretion of the list moderators, who subsequently turned down Dooley’s application.
Senior union officials, including Dooley, General Secretary Jeremy Dear, Freelance Industrial Council chair Tim Dawson and Freelance Organiser John Toner subsequently argued that Dooley should be allowed to join the list, creating a power struggle between the union and list owner as to who ultimately controlled the discussion list.
Days before the Emergency Committee met to discuss NUJPhoto, list owner Jenkins closed down the list, only to open up NVJPhoto – an almost identical lookalike list, run independently of the union and without union endorsement.
“Crucial” role of email lists
General Secretary Jeremy Dear told the meeting that while he believed email discussion lists played a “crucial” role in communications within the union, officially sanctioned lists should operate within a clear set of rules and guidelines to avoid any such clash in the future.
Dooley had claimed that the confidential NUJPhoto list had included posts critical of his handling of the Drogheda house agreement, and he is understood to have indicated that he had leaked copies of the emails in his possession.
While the specific email comments were not revealed in the Emergency Committee minutes, and no representatives from NUJPhoto were invited to the meeting, the Emergency Committee passed a motion condemning “the abusive attacks and smears on the union and its officials in relation to this issue.”
But those familiar with the NUJPhoto discussions told EPUK that while the list discussion never rose to the level of personal abuse, and that list owner Pete Jenkins had personally reminded list members to be polite when addressing union officials in private correspondence.
For the second NEC meeting in succession, EPUK articles were read out to those present. The emergency committee meeting had earlier heard from Kyran Connelly who had said that he felt EPUK’s coverage of the Drogheda Independent controversy reflected an “anti-union” editorial stance, and that a Sqweegee opinion article had contained “unacceptable attacks on [NUJ] staff”. Jeremy Dear also used the same Sqweegee article at last weekend’s meeting as an example of the criticism the union was facing over its handling of the affair.
Other criticism not addressed
While the NEC meeting attempted to bring closure to the Drogheda Independent controversy, EPUK understands that did not address other aspects of the handling of the Drogheda Independent house agreement, such as allegations made by Irish members that the Drogheda Independent chapel had deliberately sought to not inform photographer members about aspects of the agreement until late in the negotiations.
There had also been criticism of the decision to allow the smaller Emergency Committee to handle the motion, instead of the full National Executive. It was argued that the use of the word ‘immediately’ in one of the two motions passed by the Irish Executive Council meant the matter needed to be addressed quickly by the smaller Emergency Committee. But the Emergency Committee chose only to discuss the motion which did not contain the word “immediately”, leaving the more pressing but less important issue for another three weeks to be discussed by the full NEC meeting.
The Emergency Committee minutes also make passing reference to unsubstantiated allegations made at a chapel meeting that union officials may have received bribes to ensure the house agreement passed in its current form.
The NEC meeting is also believed to have not discussed allegations made in the union’s own magazine that an official forum on the Stand Up for Journalism campaign website was deliberately closed down to stop a discussion on the Drogheda Independent deal.
The NEC also resolved to conduct a survey into how widespread the practice of reporters taking photographs as part of their job actually is. At the moment, only anecdotal evidence exists as to how widespread the practice actually is, and whether it occurs only at newspapers who would not be able to otherwise employ a full photographic staff.
While last week’s EPUK survey showed that only 9% of photographers agreed with the statement “reporters taking photographs is the inevitable consequence of technological change and the NUJ should support it”, Irish Executive Committee member Barry McCall told the Emergency Committee that he believed that there were ‘thousands’ of the NUJ’s 35,000 members who also took photographs as part of their jobs as reporters.
If the survey does indeed show that the practice is widespread, many of the union’s 2,300 photographer members could be forced to choose whether they persuade the union to fight to reverse the tide of multi-skilling, or whether the union should accept and therefore tacitly endorse the practice in future negotiations.
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