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Columnist ‘sacked’ as football club apology row escalates

Angela HaggertyA Sunday newspaper has axed one of its columnists after she voiced support for a fellow writer who claimed a football club had failed to tackle sectarianism.

As reported by HTFP today, Glasgow daily The Herald apologised to Rangers FC after its columnist Graham Spiers questioned whether the club was doing enough to tackle offensive chanting among its supporters.

Graham later published a blog post defending his views and claiming the newspaper had been subjected to “pressure” from the club.

Today events too a fresh turn after Angela Haggerty, left, had her column in sister title the Sunday Herald terminated after having previously voiced support for Graham on Twitter.

Angela, left, posted on the social networking site after the publication of the apology on Wednesday: “Solidarity with Graham Spiers, again being targeted by the mob for telling some harsh truths.”

Today she tweeted:  “I have been sacked from my Sunday Herald column after expressing solidarity with @GrahamSpiers.”

Graham’s column is also believed to have been discontinued although it is understood he did not file one this week in the wake of the row.

The award-winning sportswriter, who also writes for The Times and the BBC, said an un-named Rangers Football Club director had praised Loyalist anthem The Billy Boys, which is widely viewed as a sectarian chant, and claimed the club was not doing enough to tackle offensive behaviour among its supporters.

Herald editor Magnus Llewellin has said the paper had “no option” but to apologise as Graham’s assertions could not be defended in court, but the National Union of Journalists has criticised the paper’s actions.

Dominic Bascombe, assistant organiser NUJ Scotland, said: “The NUJ has already defended Angela over the bullying and harassment she has suffered for doing her job.

“The axing of her 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.”

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, added: “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.”

Magnus told HTFP: “A Graham Spiers column published on heraldscotland in December made a claim about an un-named member of the six-strong board of Rangers.

“This presented a legal issue which had to be addressed and which was discussed at length, by all parties involved.

“The issue was whether we could defend in court a contentious statement and the advice given was that we could not. 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.

“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.”

Angela, who is of Irish descent, has previously claimed to be the victim of “anti-Irish racism” after Rangers supporters abused her for her role in editing a book charting the club’s recent financial troubles.

Graham, himself a boyhood Rangers supporter, stood by his column, claiming it was based on a “truthful account of my meeting with a Rangers director” in August.

A spokesman for Rangers FC told HTFP:  “There was no legal complaint or legal action made against The Herald on behalf of Rangers. Rangers simply asked if The Herald and its writers could prove the allegations.

“The outcome was an apology and the club is entirely satisfied with that.”

21 comments

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  • January 29, 2016 at 3:33 pm
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    Very scary times for journalism if this is the future – pandering to outside forces just to save advertising revenue – allegedly.

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  • January 29, 2016 at 3:57 pm
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    Who would have thought this situation could get any worse?
    Where is the support for reporters?
    It all stems from a lack of backing in newsrooms that journalists could once expect.
    The pair surely deserved better than this?

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  • January 29, 2016 at 3:57 pm
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    Well done Glasgow Herald, Newsquest.
    Well done Sunday Herald, Newsquest.
    How proud your journalists must be to be working for newspapers such as yours this fine day.

    The Herald lays claim to being the longest-running national newspaper in the world. If you listen closely you can probably hear umpteen generations of Scotland’s scribes spinning like tops in their graves.

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  • January 29, 2016 at 4:34 pm
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    Truly disgraceful, those in charge should be ashamed.

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  • January 29, 2016 at 4:46 pm
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    Hopefully colleagues will down pens, keyboards and cameras and the rest to stand with her. Disgusting to see.

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  • January 29, 2016 at 4:47 pm
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    I hope the readers vote with their feet and stop buying the papers

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  • January 29, 2016 at 5:09 pm
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    What a dreadful mess, shame on those responsible.

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  • January 29, 2016 at 5:11 pm
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    Journalism is well and truly finished. Last one out please turn out the lights.

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  • January 29, 2016 at 5:32 pm
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    so it comes down to taking someones word for a version of events being true. Herald backing away from Spiers because its his word against anothers, I bet the email conversation beween Spiers and rfc was through the Herald email too and wont now be leaked.

    No more off the record conversations, no more opinion pieces on certain subjects. Shame

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  • January 29, 2016 at 8:53 pm
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    It’s deeply disturbing in the second decade of the 21st century that sectarianism is still an issue in a city which likes to see itself as an international centre of culture.
    Glaswegians need to know that the Protestant-Catholic divide is the product of primitive 16th century thinking. They ought to catch up if they want to be taken seriously.
    Even more disturbing is that a ‘respected’ mainstream newspaper should allow itself to be bullied into sacking columnists for expressing unpalatable opinions.
    Whoever is responsible for this outrage should do the decent thing and pick up his/her P45 on the way out. Utterly shameful behaviour.
    Meanwhile, the Papists and Billy Boys need to grow up and find something useful to get excited about.

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  • January 30, 2016 at 12:43 am
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    Am I the only one thinking that by not naming the director, Graham has potentially libelled all six of them? Just a thought. However, that should have been picked up before going to press. And sacking someone else smacks of something fishy.

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  • January 31, 2016 at 5:57 pm
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    That a newspaper with the reputation of The Herald, and owned by Gannett, the biggest news publisher in the world, caves in to a third division football, club, with an appalling history of sectarianism and corruption has to be one of Scottish Media’s darkest hours.

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  • February 1, 2016 at 9:52 am
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    Assume that someone accusing Rangers of being “a third division football club … with an appalling history of sectarianism”, has either zero knowledge of Scotland’s league structure or is a Celtic fan.
    That aside, puzzling that Spiers couldn’t (implicitly) defend his original column by revealing to the irascible Linklater which of the six directors made the sectarian comments.
    As ‘Eh’ says, with only six potential sources, it’s baffling that the column got past the features ed, the sports ed, the deputy ed and the ed himself without someone flagging up the potential for action by Rangers, regardless of the commercial aspect.

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  • February 1, 2016 at 10:41 am
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    Shameful. As a journalist of many years I mourn the days when columnists had freedom of speech. Newsrooms now are an extension of the commercial arm of newspapers. No wonder sales are plummet ing. Readers want proper opinions and real journalism which informs and challenges not watered down drivel that doesn’t offend.

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  • February 1, 2016 at 11:32 am
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    Now I see this is a Gannett owned newspaper I am no longer surprised. They are not interested in upholding the finest principles of journalism, just profit.

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  • February 1, 2016 at 11:49 am
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    Ian Halstead: Fair point, but you’re assuming, after all the staff cuts which have been going on, that there IS a features ed, sports ed, etc at the paper to check for any libels. I’ve been banging on over the years that comment may be opinion, but it can be defamatory too. Any one of the other five directors could have taken the Herald to the cleaners on the grounds that the man in the street thought he was the one who had spoken to the columnist and it had therefore harmed his reputation. The legal advice was spot on. The only commercial aspect to this case is how much, potentially, Rangers directors could have hammered the paper for in court.
    @Old Hack: there has never been complete freedom of speech, in my experience, due to the libel laws we’re all wrapped head to foot in.

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  • February 1, 2016 at 5:08 pm
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    I know I am going to get shouted down for this, but I am going to say it anyway. You can fight for press freedom, but what if it costs your paper £200 grand win or lose? Look at it this way: there is a potential libel here, clearly. The paper has suggested that one, or perhaps all, of the directors are not upholding the law by doing all they can to stamp out sectarian chants. You, as editor, ask for legal advice. That expensive advice, probably from counsel, is that there MAY be a case. What are you going to do? One sensible thing is to immediately say that neither the paper nor the columnist intended that inference. That is what the paper did, presumably with the columnist’s agreement. There is nothing underhand about that. Then another columnist undermines that initiative – that makes a further problem. It may be that sacking columnist No. 2 is wrong, but you can understand why the paper did it. This is not about press freedom, it is about the libel laws and the necessity for papers, and editors, to stay within them. We are not free to say what we like (big time).

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  • February 1, 2016 at 5:15 pm
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    So Harry Blackwood (and I only hope you aren’t the ex-editor Harry Blackwood) why is journalism finished? One columnist wrote a column which couldn’t be defended, in the eyes of lawyers, if challenged in court, so an apology was issued. Columnist then undermined the apology with a blog. Second columnist weighs in behind first columnist, also undermining newspaper’s apology. Newspapers live and die by their ability to be credible. You can’t be credible if on one hand you’re apologising but on the other letting people you pay to write for you undermine your apology. How is that the end of journalism? Or are journalists above such basic employment rules?

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  • February 2, 2016 at 10:11 am
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    Actually, this sorry affair may not be over yet. Purely issuing an apology does not end the matter – in effect it is the paper admitting that it got it wrong. If it’s done that in print, or online, then it has no defence in court. As I recall from lecturers trying to beat the finer points of law into me, Rangers’ directors still have several years to decide (I think it’s five, without checking) whether they want to slap a libel writ on the Herald.
    This whole thing has been a sorry mess from start to finish and I think reinforces the point that sacking sub editors willy-nilly is an extremely unsafe practice.

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