Don’t shoot the messenger- NUJ row is down to their own criteria 

The debate around my membership of the NUJ has rumbled on for almost a week now. 

The controversy around the issue first arose when the Belfast and District branch, entirely unprompted, intervened and claimed I wasn’t a member- further to this, they stated I wasn’t a journalist (ironically, I agree) in an attempt to give the impression that I would not be welcome in their union. This is despite the fact that the NUJ definition of a journalist captures me under that category. 

The Belfast branch also claimed, in a statement to the Nolan show, that I would have to earn ‘my living’ from journalism. Clearly, if one assesses the temporary freelance membership criteria, quite the opposite is the case. Once again, this comical error demonstrates the ham-fisted nature of this ludicrous intervention. 

Given the apparent rebellion by the Belfast branch, against the rules and criteria of the NUJ, in jest I questioned whether they were staging some form of breakaway NUJ faction. I termed this the Continuity NUJ. 

In an utterly transparent attempt to deflect from their woeful handling of the situation, a particular NUJ office bearer, Bob Miller, took to social media to claim I was calling Belfast NUJ officials ‘terrorists’, by virtue of the use of the word continuity. Bizarre, I know. 

Given this is, quite obviously, an intelligent man; I can only conclude that he was cynically trying to turn the tide. 

Mr Miller’s assertion that I likened NUJ officials to ‘terrorists’ is utterly false, baseless and defamatory. It is, quite simply in my view, a malicious lie. I will be seeking him to urgently clarify his remarks and apologise. 

I also pointed out, rightly, that many of the Belfast NUJ officials are no more ‘journalists’ than I am. If, as is apparently the case, they are going to rebel over me meeting the criteria for membership, then some of them should asses their own journalistic circumstances. 

There must be, and I have long argued this point, a mechanism to recognise the difference between professional journalists and self-appointed journalists. At the moment, there isn’t such a mechanism. That isn’t my fault; if anything my membership of the NUJ has highlighted this enormous flaw and, quite clearly, there is a need for reform. 

The journalists who have offered me their support in relation to joining the Belfast branch agree with me that there is a woeful equivalence being made between professional journalists and those of us who aren’t. 

Bloggers, and self published public platform contributors, aren’t journalists. Yet, the NUJ criteria is so wide that all public platform contributors, whether they be professional or otherwise, fall under the same umbrella. That is utterly abhorrent and demeaning to professional journalists. 

Professional journalists are supporting me for one reason only; because I meet the criteria. It isn’t my fault the criteria is flawed, therefore I shouldn’t be discriminated against simply because I am me. 

This is not an argument around whether I am a journalist or whether I should have equivalence with a professional journalist, I shouldn’t. But the NUJ criteria and the trend of society says otherwise. 

There is only one issue upon which I should be treated equally to a professional journalist, and that is on the protection of sources. And, when such a matter eventually comes before a court, it will be at that stage a legal precedent will be set upon what actually constitutes a journalist. I will argue that my public interest publications fall under the category of journalistic practices, and will point to the criteria outlined by the NUJ to justify such an assertion. 

The NUJ, on the very day their Belfast branch was launching their ill-conceived intervention, once again debited my monthly dues payment to the union. The insanity of the Belfast NUJ’s ‘campaign’ to keep me out is highlighted by the fact that whilst they were busy trying to devise a way, any way, to block my membership- the NUJ central organisation was collecting my membership dues. 

It is clear there is a need for reform, but that’s going to be extraordinarily messy. That, however, is not my fault. I merely highlighted the point. Don’t shoot the messenger. 

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