Tuesday I attended the Claudia Jones Memorial Lecture at the Sands Film Studios
in Rotherhithe, London. This was the 11th annual lecture and the most controversial. Claudia Jones, who died
at the early age of 49, was a Black journalist, communist and activist who was deported
in December 1955 from the United States as part of the McCarthyite witch-hunt,
having been gaoled four times for ‘UnAmerican activities’.
The audience at the Sands Film Studios to hear Kerry Ann Mendoza
was one of the founders of the Notting Hill Carnival and when she died she was
buried to the left of Karl Marx in Highgate Cemetery.
lecture was due to have been given at the Guardian/Observer offices on October
11th by Kerry Ann-Mendoza, editor of the Canary, but a campaign
by White journalists, led by Islamaphobe-in-chief Nick Cohen, led to the
National Union of Journalists and its General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet overriding
the decision of their own Black members group and cancelling it. Surprisingly both Gary Younge and Aditya Chakrbarti
signed the Guardian petition which was
circulated, no doubt under peer pressure to back up their White colleagues.
Hadley Freeman and the Guardian’s empty headed Marina Hyde celebrate the cancellation of the Claudia Jones Memorial Lecture
or pretext given for the cancellation was that Canary had endangered the safety of a Guardian journalist Carl
David Goette-Luciak who was deported from Nicaragua earlier this year after
having become embedded with and an ardent supporter of the right-wing American
backed opposition to the Sandanistas.
Lies from di Stefano
Buzzfeed retracted the allegation of di Stefano that Max Blumenthall had ‘doxxed’ the Guardian’s journalist – however di Stefano pretended to be unaware of this
di Stefano boasts about the consequences of the lies that Buzzfeed had to disown, courtesy of the NUJ’s political cowardice
The Blue Plaque erected in honour of Claudia Jones
will blog at a later date in more depth on the Guardian’s role in all of this
and in particular its support for the right-wing opposition in Nicaragua. It is of a piece with it running with the
neo-liberal theme tune called ‘anti-Semitism’ in Corbyn’s Labour Party.
Chris Williamson MP extends his solidarity to a Black journalist under attack
was a great lecture by Kerry and I learnt a lot about someone whom I had barely
heard of before. It was an honour and a pleasure to meet and chat with Kerry,
who is a highly articulate and media savvy Black journalist in the pub
afterwards. Canary which Kerry edits
is an important part of the alternative media in this country and I wish them
success. However let Kerry Ann explain
the affair in her own words:
was meant to give the Claudia Jones Memorial Lecture this evening. But instead,
a group of privileged columnists at the Guardian
and other establishment outlets bottled it. They circled the wagons to ensure
that a Black woman didn’t get a platform to speak about another Black woman.
But it could not have backfired more spectacularly. Because now, they’ve
accidentally created a much bigger platform for the speech they were too afraid
Remembering Claudia Jones
Early this year, the Black Members
Council of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) invited me to give the
annual Claudia Jones Memorial Lecture. I was thrilled. Claudia
Jones was a radical; Black, feminist, communist, and a journalist. She
helped launch the Notting Hill Carnival and founded the West Indian Gazette. To
the establishment of 1950s England, everything about her was wrong. Her colour,
her gender, her politics.
Faced with this closed network of
privilege, Claudia built her own platform. And she used it to tell the stories
and present the views which Britain’s establishment press would not. Not a
million miles from the work that independent outlets like The Canary, the Ferret, Media Diversified and
others do today.
But before the lecture could take place,
an email went out to Guardian/Observer
journalists. The event was being hosted in their building, and when they
discovered the Black Members Council’s choice of speaker, they went ballistic. BuzzFeed‘s Mark Di Stefano
published a leaked email about the reaction:
First, the (mostly) white Guardian columnists and
their friends threw a public tantrum. Columnists from across the establishment
media took to Twitter with a communal shriek of outrage. How dare this women
be allowed to lecture *us*? They recycled the normal accusations:
This was what the cancellation of Kerry Ann Mendoza’s lecture was really about – the call to Boycott the Guardian
don’t pay their journalists! As everyone knows (because
we publish it on
our website), we actively encourage all of our writers to join and be
active in the NUJ. Our team also voted on its own pay deal. The absurd argument
that we pay per click only works in the sense that every journalist is paid per click/paper
sold, because that’s how every publisher makes their money. Our writers get a
flat fee per article based on subscription fees, and a top-up from advertising
revenue. As an organisation that started without any outside investment, we
have had to earn every penny we pay out to ourselves. Whether we have a great
month or an awful month, we share what we earn fairly. This is a very different
story to the establishment media, an industry whose bosses routinely bust
unions and employ unpaid interns to do the bulk of their work.
employ an antisemite! We don’t. Canary writer Steve Topple publicly recanted
his antisemitic views more than a year before working for us. He didn’t delete
his tweets or try to pretend it didn’t happen. He owned it. And he
continues to do so. The whole point of the antiracism movement is to end up
with fewer racists. Steve is a success story, and I’m proud of him for
are fake news! This is my personal favourite. The Canary has grown to a
team of over 30 journalists and editors, publishing more than 8,000 articles in
the past three years. We volunteered to be regulated
independently, unlike the establishment outlets who self-regulate. When we were
found to have published
an inaccurate story (the sole claim upheld against us since becoming
regulated), we made the correction on our front page:
This is routine for us. Whenever we make
a significant update or correction to a story, we announce it across all our
social media channels with greater prominence than the original. This doesn’t
happen in the establishment media.
Unfortunately for the Westminster
commentators, people got this. Many have supported us from the start; they’ve
followed the growth of The
Canary over the last three years and know it’s a very different
beast today. We are independently regulated, we have an editorial team of six,
a five-stage editorial process, and our articles are written and edited by
press-carded, unionised journalists. We are a professional outlet that reached
more people online in the run-up to the 2017 general election than Reuters, New Statesman, the Economist, the Spectator, the Times and other wealthy,
Next, they tried to force me to step
down. They targeted me on social media, like a little gang.
The lecture was no longer about Claudia
Jones or the Black Members Council that founded the lecture in her name. Now,
it was the Guardian‘s
event. This is what tokenism looks like. Wealthy liberals hijacking the history
of radical leftists while demonising radical, left voices in their own time.
They held a vote to reject me as
speaker. Unfortunately for them, NUJ officers pointed out this wasn’t within
their jurisdiction. The NUJ Black Members Council chooses the speaker for the
Claudia Jones Memorial Lecture, not Guardian
writers. Faced with the lone option to reject the event altogether, they voted
in favour of hosting the event.
Carl David Goette-Luciak, the Guardian’s man in Nicaragua who his colleague and friend admitted was doing the work of the CIA
When that didn’t work, they threw
up a bunch of bogus headlines that I was ‘breaking the Guardian boycott’.
But we knew from reactions in the
meeting that it wouldn’t stop there. And it didn’t.
Next, they concocted a fresh smear in
order to put pressure on the NUJ to pull the event.
A straight smear
Suddenly, The Canary was apparently responsible for ‘endangering a journalist’. Criticism
centred on a report by award-winning journalist Max Blumenthal which
pointed to a number of issues with reporting by the Guardian‘s Carl David
Goette-Luciak in Nicaragua.
Interestingly, this charge was led once more by Mark Di Stefano of BuzzFeed. His story
connected our one article on Goette-Luciak with an online doxxing of
him. No evidence of the link was made, and there was no effort to challenge the
factual basis of Blumenthal’s report. It was a straight smear. One thing
reported on top of the other as if the link was obvious.
More fake headlines – the Boycott of the Guardian doesn’t extend to contact with their journalists or their offices! Desperate times for Nick Cohen’s mob
By 7am the next morning, BuzzFeed was forced to
retract the accusation. But it didn’t have the integrity to pull the story or
post a prominent correction. Instead, it added this ‘update’ at the bottom.
It considers it an ‘update’ to say ‘although we spend this entire article
insinuating a link between these two things, there is actually no link between
the two things’. Whatever that is, it’s not journalism.
NUJ general secretary Michelle
Stanistreet then pulled the lecture from the Guardian building. Di Stefano tweeted a
quote from her which indirectly condemned us for the false allegations BuzzFeed had already
Di Stefano then announced the
cancellation on Twitter, before any of us had been informed.
He failed to mention, however, that
his own site had been forced to row back on the smear that triggered the
But the story had served its purpose. It
created a face-saving ‘out’ for the NUJ and the Guardian. They needed to be able to say ‘we
aren’t no-platforming one of the handful of BAME editors-in-chief in UK media –
we’re defending journalism!’
The irony here is that these columnists are guilty of their own charge. They
began a campaign of harassment against a fellow journalist. They knowingly
promoted the smear which had already been rowed back on by the outlet that
had made it. And they did so in a cynical attempt to no-platform a Black woman
journalist. It also fills me with a peculiar kind of horror that this was enabled
by the general secretary of my own union.
So what now?
On Friday 12 October, the NUJ is meeting
to discuss the allegations against The
Canary; allegations which have already been publicly retracted by
the outlet that made them. Stanistreet has overruled the will of the Black
Members Council. And she did so on the word of BuzzFeed; an organisation that worked
hard to ensure its own workers remain un-unionised.
And so my lecture will happen at another
location, on a different day, and it will be streamed around the world. Instead
of a small tribute to Claudia Jones, it will be a rallying cry for everyone who
is tired of the morally bankrupt establishment media.
For the columnist class, this was never
about Claudia Jones, or me, or The
Canary. It was about a handful of obscenely privileged Westminster
columnists ganging up to avoid being embarrassed. They didn’t want to have to
sit and grimace while their industry was criticised from the outside. And they
resorted to lies, smears and confected outrage to avoid it.
But they still lost.
They placed themselves on the wrong side
of history and exposed their paternalistic, classist, racist attitudes to the
world. So I’d like to thank each of them for screwing this up so badly. Because
this speech is made all the more important and poignant by the attempts to shut
How many privileged columnists does it
take to silence one Black woman? Trick question. They never have, and they