Response to the Belfast branch of the NUJ 

At lunchtime yesterday the Belfast Branch for the NUJ issued a statement to the Stephen Nolan show claiming I was not a member of the Union. 

It appears this morning, by virtue of a public tweet, the Belfast branch have now somewhat rowed back from this position and claimed I was not a member of the ‘Belfast branch’. I am amazed at their need to do this, I never claimed to be a member of their Belfast branch. 

The intervention by the Belfast branch of the NUJ is a surprising one; more so given that they appear to be taking a completely different view on the criteria for NUJ membership, than that of the parent organisation itself. 

I applied for membership of the NUJ and was informed that within 60 days a branch would be suggested for me to join. This choice of branch, I was informed, was a matter of choice for myself. 

I have spoken to established professional journalists who have recently joined the NUJ and who consider themselves, and are treated as, members. These journalists went through exactly the same process as me, and no one has sought to challenge their status as a member. 

Since the time of my application the National Union of Journalists have taken monthly direct debits from my bank account. Copies of bank statements verifying this have been provided, in confidence, to the Nolan show. 

I have also been in receipt of the monthly NUJ newsletter, which reads in its first line “Dear NUJ member…”. 

I wonder what kind of union the Belfast NUJ believe they are part of; in their mind it appears to be one that takes monthly money from someone, and addresses them as an NUJ member in correspondence, but then denies that the individual-who is paying into the union- is in fact a member.

The NUJ in their statement have also stated that before they would accept me into their branch they would have to be satisfied I earn a living from journalism. This criteria is entirely at odds with the NUJ’s own published membership criteria, which states as the criteria for my membership- temporary freelance member- the following; 

” If you are trying to establish or re-establish yourself as a full-time journalist, yet do not yet earn half of your income from freelance journalism and you don’t have another full-time job you can apply to join the NUJ as a temporary freelance member.” 

Far from earning a living from journalism, the criteria stipulates that for this type of membership you must not earn anymore than half your income from journalism. This could mean anything from 10p to £100,000. 

Further to this, the NUJ rules state; 

 “[t]he union shall consist of journalists, including photographers, creative artists working editorially in newspapers, magazines, books, broadcasting, public relations and information, and electronic media; as advertising and fashion photographers, advertising copywriters, editorial computer systems workers…”

At no point in the criteria for joining does it stipulate you must earn your living from journalism. The type of journalism you are engaged in and the amount you earn from it is only relevant in relation to the kind of membership band you are eligible for. It is not a condition of membership per se. 

On the NUJ website the union also states; 

” The National Union of Journalists is the voice for journalism and for journalists across the UK and Ireland working at home and abroad in all sectors of the media as freelances, casuals and staff in newspapers, news agencies, broadcasting, magazines, online, book publishing, in public relations, communications, and as photographers.” 

As someone who has published books, written columns online for established media outlets and published my own work online, I clearly fall under that criteria. 

Ironically I think the criteria is far too broad and is demeaning to qualified professional journalists, but that is a matter for the NUJ itself, it is not my fault for joining and, it seems, highlighting a major fault-line.

I question how many times the Belfast NUJ have got themselves so exercised about an individual becoming a member of the union? 

There appears to be no objections when all sorts of individuals, who, unlike me, actually think they are journalists because they write a blog, join the NUJ. It appears the NUJ welcome such journalistic imposters with open arms, yet due to my controversial profile they feel the need to take issue with me. 

I am glad this issue has come to the fore. At the very least it will expose the woeful equivalence being made between professionally qualified journalists and those who aren’t. 

I have been contacted by a number of journalists who have stated they would happily propose me for branch membership. Not because they agree that non-qualified journalists should be in the union, they don’t, but because they accept that as flawed as the membership criteria may be; I meet it, and therefore should not be excluded simply because some people may object to me as a personality. 

I point out the NUJ previously accepted former IRA prisoner Danny Morrison as a member and currently have convicted IRA life sentence prisoner Anthony McIntyre as member. I do not object to former IRA men being in the union, they are every bit as entitled to freedom of expression as I am, but I would be somewhat concerned if the NUJ were taking an unbalanced approach along sectarian lines. 

I look forward to the NUJ as a body clarifying this issue. As an individual paying into a union, I believe I am in the union. Should the NUJ take a different approach then we are heading for the High Court. 

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