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Investigative journalist Mark Watts dramatically un-masked a rival in the election for the Journalist ed-itor as the candidate of a little-known extreme-left faction.
The revelation was contained in an e-mail exposé that was distributed to around 19,000 inboxes of members of the national union of journalists (NUJ). Watts set out how a rival in the election for the editorship of the Journalist, which is published by the union for its members, failed to declare in election material sent to the electorate that he was the “NUJ Left” candidate.
Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow, who reveal-ed to the Watts campaign team that he resigned from the NUJ because of just such a clique, has already come out in support of Watts to be elected editor of the NUJ’s Journalist magazine, along with an army of eminent journalists from all sectors of the media industry.
Watts – freelance journalist, broadcaster and co-ordinator of the FOIA Centre – tells members in the e-mail circular: “I have been astonished by what I’ve found out about the NUJ during this election. Since declaring my candidacy for the Journalist editorship just three weeks ago, I’ve uncovered what has gone wrong with our union. And I think you’ll be appalled too.”
Reaction from members unknown to the Watts campaign team was swift, most of it positive. The first e-mail to come into firstname.lastname@example.org was typical, saying: “Cracking e-mail, Mark, thanks very much. I'll vote for you.
“Unfortunately, I may have binned my ballot paper in disgust at some of the other candidates. Do you know whether I can get a replacement?”
However, that reaction was not reflected in online commenting. Watts cited one senior NUJ source in the e-mail, who, referring to “NUJ Left”, said: “They just have the loudest voices.”
Watts said tonight: “I know that most NUJ members agree with my position; what I do not know is whether they will vote in this election, or whether they will give up with the NUJ, as Jon Snow did. I hope you will vote.”
His e-mail circular detailed how the “NUJ Left” candidate, Richard Simcox, failed to declare his political affiliation in the election material sent to the electorate: the election address, the short Journalist questionnaire, his e-mail circular to NUJ members, plus his statements to various media websites covering the election.
Watts asked: “Why should the electorate be expected to check out the Socialist Worker, or the website of some previously little-known faction, or even run a Google search when they have so much material supplied by the candidates? I doubt many voting NUJ members would have done any of that further research rather than simply reading the election material sent to them.”
His e-mail said: “In general, I believe that no one should be under any obligation to declare her or his political allegiance. However, if you stand for office as, for example, a councillor, MP or MEP, you’re expected to declare any political allegiances. Imagine the uproar if a candidate standing as an independent in such an election were discovered to be part of some party.
“Why should it be different for a trade union that is supposed to be democratically governed?”
The e-mail circular pointed to the faction’s stated aim of: “Maintaining regular and effective communic-ation among all levels of the NUJ, including liaison between ‘NUJ Left’ and ‘NEC [national executive council] Left’ members, to ensure senior lay and elected left officials are accountable to ‘NUJ Left’.”
Watts asked: “Is it appropriate for the editor of the Journalist to be accountable to ’NUJ Left’? I think not.”
The e-mail also pointed to the faction’s aim of: “Identifying and targeting key elected posts and NEC seats, democratically agreeing slates for elections, and campaigning for ‘NUJ Left’ candid-ates, to advance our influence and further develop equality representation on policy-making bodies and through other structures of the union.”
In his e-mail, Watts said: “You probably thought long ago that the NUJ is run by ‘extreme lefties’, but I bet you didn’t know that our union is being subjected to such an organised attempted hijack.”
“I had no idea about this when I decided to stand for the Journalist editorship.”
Watts said that the NUJ’s failure to insist on all election candidates to declare political allegiances to the electorate leaves the way open for members of parties such as the BNP to be elected before anyone realises the affiliation.
The e-mail said: “I’m not comparing ‘NUJ Left’ with the BNP. I’m saying the NUJ membership has the right to know if a candidate is a member of ‘NUJ Left’, the BNP, or any other political group – especially for a job such as the Journalist editorship,” said the e-mail.
In the e-mail, Watts also called on Jeremy Dear, NUJ general secretary, and Michelle Stanistreet, deputy general secretary, to condemn publicly the stated aims of “NUJ Left” and its fielding of a candidate in such a way as to limit the realistic likelihood of the electorate finding out about his political allegiance.
He called on them to state publicly that they will initiate and lead the process of establishing proced-ures to ensure that candidates in all future NUJ elections declare any political allegiances.
Watts added tonight: “I am afraid that if you have cancer, and there is a chance of surviving it, the cancer invariably has to be removed. It is not pleasant, but it maximises the chance of living on.”
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