The National Union of Journalists has come out in support of staff working for a council newspaper after details of their salary packages were published in the local press.
The East London Advertiser reported that staff costs at the Tower Hamlets council paper East End Life averaged more than £47,000 after a Freedom of Information request to the authority.
Now the NUJ has sent a letter to the Advertiser criticising it for its story and challenging the Archant title to publish wage details for its own managers and reporters.
But Advertiser editor Malcolm Starbrook, who says he has yet to receive the letter, today said he was standing by the story and accused the union of “spin.”
The letter was written by Nic Mitchell and Phil Morcom, co-chairs of the Public Relations and Communications Council at the NUJ, who said it was not possible to work out an average salary simply by dividing the staff costs of £218,000 by the 4.6 employees at the council paper.
They wrote: “In reference to your story ‘Newspaper Society to meet with Eric Pickles amid pressure on Tower Hamlets council publications’ on 22 August 2012, we would like to point out an inaccuracy.
“The figure of £47,500 per annum was arrived at via a Freedom of Information request to Tower Hamlets Council. It is not possible to work out an average salary by simply dividing £218,000 by the number of staff (4.6). The overwhelming majority of our members at the council earn nowhere near this amount.
“Council grade rates and salaries of senior council staff are a matter of public record. Staff on the newspaper are paid the local authority rate for their grade as set by national agreement.
“We were, however, disappointed that you decided it appropriate to publicise the individual salaries of our members in the communications department. In the spirit of openness on these matters is Archant prepared to publish the salaries of its management and reporters’ wages?
“The NUJ is keen to foster better relations between all journalists, in the private and public sectors, and we are keen to have a good working relationship with the staff of the East London Advertiser.”
The council has said that the figure for staff costs covers a range of salary grades and includes payments for National Insurance, pension contributions and other costs.
The Advertiser reported that Tower Hamlets Council had justified its continued production of the newspaper by arguing that its £1.2m budget was covered by advertising, but the FoI showed 49pc of its revenue came from internal advertising from its own departments.
Malcolm told HTFP he had not received the letter from the NUJ.
He said: “Had I done so, I would state that the complaint from the NUJ’s Public Relations and Communications Council, as it appears on your website, seems more about spin than substance.
“It is equally clear that no-one there seems to have read the report in the Advertiser, which is still available on our e-edition for all to appreciate the facts.
“Our FOI request was directed at staff costs, production costs and advertising revenues of the council-funded East End Life.
“As a result we wrote about the average cost to the council of the remuneration packages for the 4.6 employees of the council-run newspaper. We did not describe the amounts as take-home payments; neither did we identify any individual.
“East End Life, unlike the East London Advertiser, is funded out of the public purse in one of London’s most-deprived areas. Our intention was to draw East Enders’ attention to the high cost of council propaganda for which they are paying.”
The Newspaper Society is to meet with communities secretary Eric Pickles to urge him to speed up plans to bring into law his code of conduct, which would limit the publication of council newspapers to four times a year.