By Anton Rippon
A columnist on the Sunday Herald has been dumped for supporting an award-winning sportswriter, who has also left the paper, while the Sunday title’s editor says that it was nothing to do with him, it was the editor-in-chief what done it.
Angela Haggerty has been sacked from her column with the Glasgow-based Sunday after she voiced support for Graham Spiers, four times the Scottish Sports Journalist of the Year. Spiers had defended his views when the daily title for which he worked, The Herald, apologised for one of his columns following “severe pressure” from a football club.
Spiers said that The Herald has bowed to complaints from Rangers, after he claimed that the Ibrox club was not doing enough to address the problem of offensive, sectarian chanting among its supporters.
Spiers, who also writes for The Times and for the BBC, claimed that an unnamed Rangers director had praised Loyalist anthem “The Billy Boys”.
Spiers’s original article has been removed from the paper’s website and a day after the paper published its apology on Wednesday, Spiers failed to file his weekly column.
The NUJ condemned the treatment of the two columnists.
The Herald’s editor-in-chief, Magnus Llewellin, said the paper had “no option” but to apologise as the assertion could not have been defended in court.
The “Spiers on Sport” column, published in December, told of a meeting that Spiers attended at Ibrox in August. On Wednesday this week, following Rangers’ complaint about the piece, The Herald issued an apology: “In a recent column for heraldscotland, Graham Spiers said an unnamed Rangers director had praised the song “The Billy Boys”.
“He also questioned the willingness of Rangers directors to tackle offensive behaviour, and The Herald and Graham Spiers accept this was inaccurate.
“We acknowledge every member of the Rangers board is fully committed to fighting bigotry and offensive chanting, wherever it occurs in Scottish football, and that the club is actively tackling the issue. We apologise for any embarrassment that may have been caused to the members of the Rangers board.”
In a blog the same day, Spiers defended his position regarding his August meeting with the Rangers director: “I subsequently expressed my dismay at the director’s comment in an email exchange with Rangers. There was, and is, no question of me calling any Rangers director a bigot.
“Rangers duly complained to The Herald about my column. As the weeks passed a dispute arose, and the pressure brought upon the newspaper became severe.
“The Herald told me repeatedly that they now had to find a way to a public resolution with Rangers. Having searched many avenues to reach an agreement with the club, the newspaper ultimately denied my request to withhold any clarification/apology until my own position was clearer.
“The Herald has never told me that they disbelieved my version of events. I also retain the highest regard for Magnus Llewellin, the paper’s editor who has tried to resolve this problem.
“My opinion – as expressed in my column – was based on a truthful account of my meeting with a Rangers director.”
Robbie Dinwoodie, the paper’s former political correspondent who recently took redundancy after three decades with the paper, defended his former colleague: “In 42 years in print journalism I have never come across a worse failure of a newspaper to back a writer than that of The Herald and Graham Spiers.
“I left The Herald four months ago on good terms and the paper had my loyalty for 28 years. Should a reporter get something wrong there is a duty to raise a hand and accept responsibility. But when a journalist insists on and can prove the veracity of a story an editor should provide full backing. That’s the deal …
“A hardline fans’ website swiftly boasted that the threat of withdrawal of £40,000 in advertising revenues by motor sales and coach operators Park’s clinched the climb-down. The owner is a Rangers director. I hope this is not true.
“The irony is that this website — the same unsavoury crowd who recently threatened critics and their wives and children — loudly trumpet the merits of the full bigoted songbook at Ibrox. The previous article proclaimed the Billy Boys football’s ‘haka’ for the Protestant Unionist Loyalist community.
“It used to be press passes and access which were threatened. If it’s advertising, who’s next?”
In the meantime, Haggerty has been told that her column is no longer welcome in the Sunday Herald after she tweeted: “Solidarity with @GrahamSpiers, again being targeted by the mob for telling some harsh truths…
“Welcome to Scotland: write about glaring bigotry at Ibrox and the extremist ‘fans’ will hound you, intimidate you, harass you. In 2016.”
The Sunday Herald’s editor, Neil Mackay, has distanced himself from the sacking of Haggerty, saying it was the decision of editor-in-chief Llewellin.
Mackay tweeted: “Important: the decision to remove @AngelaHaggerty as Sunday Herald columnist was not taken by me but by the editor-in-chief Magnus Llewellin.”
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.”
Last year, sportsjournalists.co.uk reported on how Rangers had banned Spiers, author of a 2007 book L’Enigma – A Chronicle of Trauma and Turmoil at Rangers, although he was not told the reason for the ban. It seemed that his general criticism of the club – which he supported as a child – was to blame.
At the time he said: “I had one conversation with one Rangers director, who I phoned up when I heard about this ban, and he didn’t know what I was talking about. He’d just been away on his holidays, and he didn’t know I’d been banned. Then he got back to me two hours later and he gave me a slightly rambling … statement, or perspective, on why I had been banned. But he said to me: ‘As far as I know it’s for nothing recent’.”
Spiers said that, as he was a columnist and no longer a match reporter, the ban was hardly going to affect him.
Rangers has already banned the Daily Record “following recent reporting by your journalists” while the BBC has itself “banned” Rangers by refusing to send journalists to cover matches and press conferences – although it continued to report generally on the club – after a Rangers’ ban on reporter Chris McLaughlin, who led a report on Rangers’ 6-2 Scottish Challenge Cup win over Hibernian with the news that “three arrests were made after sectarian singing”.
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