Jamie Bryson & The NUJ

Anthony McIntyre thinks the NUJ should, if requested, assist Jamie Bryson in a case of journalistic privilege.

Since first coming to prominence courtesy of his involvement in a bonfire funding row followed by the loyalist flags protest, Jamie Bryson has expressed views that many have taken umbrage to. Thus far outrage has not suffocated alternative and provocative voices. It is always a vital sign for societal health that the widest range of views are considered, and their authors not institutionally disadvantaged for having the temerity to express them.

Recently Bryson was arrested by British police, ostensibly investigating East Belfast UVF activity. He has claimed that laptops seized during an attendant search of his home contain material which should fall under the rubric of journalistic privilege and that the PSNI therefore should not be allowed to trawl through the contents on a fishing expedition: a barrister should first be allowed to peruse and then determine what is relevant to a bona fide investigation.

Bryson's statement on journalistic privilege has prompted ire within the Belfast branch of the NUJ, with its secretary Ciaran O Maolain insisting that the branch would not be offering the loyalist blogger any assistance.

The Branch does not regard Bryson as a journalist, has no intention of supporting his claim to journalistic privilege or otherwise assisting him in any way.

This seemed a rushed and unsolicited response given that Bryson had not asked for NUJ help.

I haven't even asked for representation from the NUJ at this stage. All I want is to be accepted as an equal to other members on the same level of membership … As things stand I'm quite happy with the legal representation I'm getting, but I would like to have the option open through the NUJ should it be relevant further down the line.

The current animus towards Bryson would appear to be a carryover from an earlier conflict prompted by his having applied to join the union. Then O Maolain objected strenuously to Bryson being approved membership, feeling sufficiently moved to tender his resignation from the National Executive Council. Moreover, Belfast NUJ had taken to social media to vehemently dispute that Bryson was a member despite the loyalist writer having paid his monthly dues and appearing to meet all other membership criteria.

Bryson appealed the position of the Belfast branch. When his case was heard in London the NEC stated.

The NUJ can confirm that Jamie Bryson has been admitted as a freelance, temporary member. Jamie Bryson exercised his appeal against the decision of Belfast and District branch not to admit him to membership and his appeal has been successful.

The NEC also held that the Belfast Branch had behaved entirely appropriately. O Maolain responded by claiming:

Jamie Bryson is not a proper person to be in the union and his membership should have been rejected because he is not a journalist.

Nevertheless, Bryson’s argument prevailed against what Newton Emerson described as this "dubious objection."

It is absolutely clear that I meet the criteria. I have followed the NUJ’s own rules and processes and quite rightly been ratified as a member.

This is what makes the attitude of the Belfast branch less appropriate than the NEC ruled it to be first time around. Then it had arguable grounds, albeit ultimately rejected, for opposing Bryson’s membership. Having lost the battle of definition the Belfast branch has little in its arsenal upon which it can call to justify its assertion that it would offer no help to a fellow NUJ member citing journalistic privilege against state intrusion. Bryson is a NUJ member regardless of who likes it and should be afforded the same entitlements as all other members of a similar status. 

Bryson might not be the type of member the Belfast branch prefers to have on its books but it seems indisputable that he has lifted the lid on issues in a way that many of his NUJ colleagues were unable to. In relation to the NAMA controversy he could argue:

I believe I have demonstrated a clear web of individuals, including politicians, who have contrived and conspired together to get things done and increase their own bank balances by a nod and a wink schemes.

When he delivered his series of explosive allegations before the Stormont Finance Committee they caused a storm.

If that is not the stuff that good investigative journalism is moulded from, the NUJ might bizarrely find itself calling upon external investigators to investigate the disappearance of investigative journalism.

Moreover, Bryson's commitment to the sacrosanct journalistic principle of source protection was admirable. Believable in his claim that he would see the inside of a jail cell before compromising his sources, he asserted:

I am giving relevant information to this committee which sources, extremely close and involved in this nefarious deal, have provided to me as whistleblowers … I am not in a position to breach somebody’s confidence before this committee.

That is the sort of person the NUJ should be taking into its ranks with open arms.

Seamus Dooley, the general secretary of the union in Ireland has adopted a much more consistent and logical approach:

If an application for support or assistance is received from Jamie Bryson it will be considered in the normal way.

The Belfast branch, where in the past much great union work has its provenance, should consider pulling its horns in on this one. There are bigger fish to fry.

Anthony McIntyre blogs @ The Pensive Quill.

Follow Anthony McIntyre on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre      

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

4 comments to ''Jamie Bryson & The NUJ"

  1. Ciaran O Maolain is a bit of a Tory Conservative Nazi... he used to be a civil servant with the NIHRC until he and Monica McWilliams had a bitch fight with each other.

    The guy is so anal judgmental and self-righteous he is easy to play. To cut a long story short I found the best way to get the answer you want from him is to deliberately misquote him to himself. He would write lengthy 6 page emails in response providing all the information I wanted; that he would not otherwise give if I had asked him straight for it.

  2. One positive of Trumps Presidency will undoubtably be confronting the so called “free press” about their use of lies as a matter of course.

    After the phone hacking revelations by the U.K. press, we are slightly more sympathetic to this in Britain than America would of been. This latest inconsistency from the NUJ further demonstrates their jealous guarding of access to the print media.

    Last week a major story “broke” in the U.K. about the sermons in the Didsbury mosque the Manchester bomber attended, exhorting armed jihad. A year before another journalist the NUJ fails to acknowledge had exposed this same imam, the same journalist who had been jailed for reporting on people trafficking rape gangs who might of expected support from those in the industry. They instead smeared him as an Islamophobe, as if this justified his ‘ unpersoning ‘.

    But journalists now see their role as censors of information contrary to progressive orthodoxy, and are unable or unwilling to acknowledge the role his has played in the collapse of their circulations, and the general hostility the public across the West now hold towards them. They honestly think Trump is the cause, not their threats and insults to normal people and their sensibilities, and their endangerment of the most vulnerable in society with their omissions.

    Instead of assessing their behaviour, they support the States outsourcing of censorship towards their new rivals in media, ironically under the guise of removing “fake news”, something I predicted on here on week after Clinton’s reference to fake news.The sooner these porcine conspirators are replaced by a truly free press, the better.

  3. So who threw Daithi McKay under the bus? Is that how how a journalist should treat an anonymous source?

  4. Belfast Gonzo,

    a very good point.

    No journalist show throw a source under the bus.

    What this particular case might well swing on is whether the roadkill was a source or a political manipulator.

    If it was an anonymous source thrown under, then NUJ members should address that rather than argue not to assist a member in a case involving journalistic privilege.


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