The Herald has come under severe criticism for failing to defend two under fire journalists who reported on matters relating to sectarian chanting at Rangers football club.
Sunday Herald columnist and former The Drum reporter, Angela Haggerty, was sacked after showing her support for colleague and sports reporter, Graham Spiers, who departed following pressure for a column he wrote in which he questioned “the mettle” of the current Rangers board in tackling offensive chanting.
The Newsquest title was threatened with legal action over Spiers’ assertion that an un-named Rangers director told him that he thought The Billy Boys was “a great song”.
In response to the legal threats Herald editor, Magnus Llewellin, issued an apology on 27 January for the article which was published on 30 December 2015.
The apology said: “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.”
Spiers took issue with the apology and defended his statements in a blog post saying: “My opinion – as expressed in my column – was based on a truthful account of my meeting with a Rangers director.”
Haggerty, who is also the editor of news and politics site, Common Space, came to Spiers’ defence and on 27 Wednesday tweeted: “Solidarity with @GrahamSpiers, again being targeted by the mob for telling some harsh truths.”
— Captain Haggerty (@AngelaHaggerty) January 27, 2016
Speaking to The Drum Haggerty confirmed that following her display of public support for Spiers she received a call from Llewellin who informed her that she was fired because the tweet “nullified Graham’s apology.”
“I understand the difficulties that papers face with legal challenges however when you step away from the issue and look at it in terms of freedom of the press and freedom of speech it’s a dark day for the press in Scotland."
Haggerty said that she has been subjected to abuse and threats from Rangers supporters for years and was saddened that her sacking “surely reinforces their tactics of threatening publications works and it puts me under pressure going forward.”
Llewellin spoke to Hold The Front Page: “The problem lay with the assertion by Graham Spiers that ‘at least one member of the Rangers board thinks The Billy Boys is a tremendous song’.
“As you may know, the song is regarded as a sectarian anthem.
“That left us with a legal issue which had to be addressed. The matter was discussed at length by all parties involved and, on legal advice, we published the apology.
“The issue we had was whether we could defend the contentious statement in court and the advice given was that we could not. That left us with no other option other than to apologise.”
The NUJ came to Haggerty’s defence with Dominic Bascombe, assistant organiser NUJ Scotland, issuing a statement saying: "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, said it was “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."