Glasgow & West Scotland

NUJ accuses The Herald of 'pandering to mob' in Rangers row

herald Image copyright Thomas Nugent

The National Union of Journalists has accused The Herald of "pandering to the mob" after columnists had contributions pulled amid a row with Rangers FC.

The newspaper apologised for what it said was an inaccuracy by Graham Spiers in a piece on sectarian singing. Mr Spiers later stood by his column.

Angela Haggerty said she had been sacked from sister paper the Sunday Herald after "expressing solidarity".

The Herald said it had to take action after its apology was "undermined".

In a statement, the NUJ said it had written to The Herald's editor "condemning the pulling of columns of Angela Haggerty and Graham Spiers following intervention by the football club".

'Commercial meddling'

Image caption The row began after a column written by sports journalist Graham Spiers

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: "It is outrageous that commercial meddling has led the Herald to sack a respected columnist.

"This pandering to the mob does the freedom of journalism and the reputation of the Herald no favours. We call on the editor to reinstate these columnists at once."

Dominic Bascombe, assistant organiser at NUJ Scotland, added that the axing of Ms Haggerty's column "sends a message that The Herald is unwilling to stand up for its contributors and is willing to sacrifice journalists when commercial interests are involved. This is totally unacceptable".

In a statement, Herald and Times Group editor-in-chief Magnus Llewellin said Mr Spiers's column in December "made a claim about an un-named member of the six-strong board of Rangers" that "presented a legal issue which had to be addressed".

"The issue was whether we could defend in court a contentious statement and the advice given was that we could not," he said.

"Finally, on clear legal advice, we were left with no option other than to apologise and seek to draw a line under the matter.

"After the apology was published we had to abide by it and the spirit in which it was published. Unfortunately that apology was then undermined and we had to take appropriate action."

'Difficult decision'

Mr Llewellin added: "Our titles have a long history of supporting quality journalism and defending free speech and robust comment. This made all the more difficult the action we had to take.

"While one of our advertisers is on the board at Rangers that was never an issue and we shall continue to report and comment on the pressing issues of the day without fear or favour."

Shortly after the statement was issued Sunday Herald editor Neil Mackay said on Twitter: "Important: the decision to remove @AngelaHaggerty as Sunday Herald columnist was not taken by me but by the editor-in-chief Magnus Llewellin.

"When it comes to counting friends, let me say @AngelaHaggerty is a very dear friend of mine, and will always be a friend to me."

The issue relates to an online opinion piece which Mr Spiers wrote for The Herald.

'Fully committed'

Earlier this week, the newspaper's online edition stated: "In a recent column for heraldscotland, Graham Spiers said an un-named Rangers director had praised the song The Billy Boys.

"He also questioned the willingness of Rangers directors to tackle offensive behaviour, and The Herald and Graham Spiers accept this was inaccurate.

"We acknowledge every member of the Rangers board is fully committed to fighting bigotry and offensive chanting, wherever it occurs in Scottish football, and that the club is actively tackling the issue."

The statement ended: "We apologise for any embarrassment that may have been caused to the members of the Rangers board."

With the issue attracting considerable comment on social media, Sunday Herald columnist Ms Haggerty tweeted: "Solidarity with @GrahamSpiers, again being targeted by the mob for telling some harsh truths."

On Friday, Ms Haggerty tweeted: "I have been sacked from my Sunday Herald column after expressing solidarity with @GrahamSpiers."

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