Dispute leads to departures

Herald columnists fired in Rangers row

The HeraldThe Herald has fired two columnists in a dispute involving Rangers Football Club.

Sports writer Graham Spiers departed following a threat of legal action after he wrote a piece about chanting at Ibrox. It prompted a complaint to the Herald from the Ibrox club. The Herald published an apology on Wednesday which has prompted criticism internally and externally of editor in chief Magnus Llewellin.

Spiers followed up with another piece in which he said: “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.”

Following Spiers’s article freelancer Angela Haggerty came out in support of Spiers and wrote a tweet complaining about Rangers’ bigotry. She was subsequently told she would no longer be writing her column in the Sunday Herald.

Haggerty, who edits the website Common Space, has stated that she was referring to the fans, not the club.

Llewellin has faced criticism from staff, former staff and the National Union of Journalists which issued a statement criticising the decisions against the journalists. The statement from the NUJ, however, is no longer on its website.

In a further twist, Sunday Herald editor Neil Mackay today tweeted that the decision to remove Haggerty “was not taken by me but by the editor-in-chief Magnus Llewellin.”

Mackay tweet

The general secretary of the National Union of Journalists Michelle Stanistreet said: “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.”

Llewellin said in a statement: “A Graham Spiers column published on heraldscotland [the website] 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.”

Despite his dismissal, Spiers was still featuring among a list of Herald columnists on its website.

It is not the first time Rangers has been engulfed in disputes with journalists. BBC sports writer, Chris McLaughlin, was banned because of a match report in which he mentioned three arrests for sectarian singing. This prompted the BBC to boycott the club.

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