The An Lanntair grievance: An Inconvenient Truth

Our local arts centre’s decision to hold a Sunday cinema trial was always going to be controversial and I blogged about some of the issues surrounding this a few weeks ago.

Naturally interested in how it was playing out in the media, I made a point of catching up with the coverage of the first Sunday showing, the Star Wars blockbuster The Last Jedi, recently.

The coverage included a Radio Scotland piece which I listened to on iPlayer.

It was quite a detailed piece, lasting half an hour, and some of the people interviewed for it, including journalist John Macleod, picked up on points that I had made in my original blog.

They couldn’t possibly have been talking about any other blog.

I’m not going to go over all the points made in my original piece — very briefly, it questioned how the trial for Sunday opening had come about and raised staff concerns about inadequate consultation, both with the community and with staff themselves.

What I do want to talk about today are some statements made by An Lanntair chairman David Green in the Radio Scotland programme, which went out on January 28.

By the way, I chose not to run this blog post before now because I had the press awards to go to in Inverness last Friday and did not want the excitement of the occasion to be overshadowed.

As before, there will undoubtedly be reaction to this piece and, while I am used to that to a certain extent, I didn’t want to have to deal with the stress of it while there were celebrations to be had.

FACT

I feel I have no choice but to write this, though. It was surreal enough to hear my blog being discussed on national radio but my reaction turned to complete shock when the chairman dismissed my report of a staff grievance as being “absolutely untrue”.

I could hardly believe my ears!

The existence of this grievance, as I told it, is a complete fact — and David Green was named in it in its first paragraph, as was the chief executive.

I do not understand why An Lanntair are trying to deny the existence of this grievance when they can so easily be proved wrong. All that does is draw more attention to it and prompt people to ask more difficult questions.

It’s not just on radio that they’re doing it, either. They also put out a public statement on Monday, which included the paragraph: “Some recent suggestions and statements on social media imply that a collective grievance has been raised by staff at An Lanntair against the CEO and the board in relation to the Sunday opening issue. This is not the case.”

From my point of view, my statement did not make any claims about a grievance being collective. I did not imply that — and I wouldn’t have because I knew it was lodged by an individual.

Question is, are An Lanntair choosing to bend what was said in order to give them something they can refute? That is slippery stuff – and extremely disingenuous.

I have seen a copy of this grievance. I have read it. It was passed to a number of individuals, including people at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and Creative Scotland, and also to me.

That grievance, dated 27 December 2017 and running to more than 3,000 words, is highly critical. I’m not going to go into the contents of the grievance but I entirely reject David Green’s suggestion that I was making up stories.

Absolutely untrue, indeed. And he compounded the offence when he went on to describe the blog as “very ill-informed”.

CREDIBILITY

I’m curious as to what part of it, exactly, he thinks was ill-informed. Every claim I made was backed up and every question I asked was reasonable and logical in light of the evidence I presented, whether that evidence was statements of fact or quotes from staff.

I don’t believe for one second that he was talking about any blog other than mine and I consider this to be a direct attack on my credibility, professional integrity and reputation as a journalist.

The chairman may not like what I said in my blog — but that doesn’t make it ill-informed.

For those who missed the interview on Radio Scotland, here is an excerpt, word for word.

Interviewer: “People have the choice of being members of An Lanntair and also will have the choice of going along to a cinema that’s open on a Sunday. But members of staff don’t have much choice, do they? And there are reports that many of the members of staff don’t want to work on a Sunday.”

David Green: “I’m glad you asked the question but just before I answer that question, the notion or the statement that was made by John Macleod, who is a professional journalist and should research better, that there is a grievance by staff against their treatment in this, is absolutely untrue and I’d really like to take the opportunity to make that clear.”

Interviewer: “Well, he was mentioning and quoting a well-known blog in the Western Isles which made that claim.”

David Green: “Absolutely and he should do his work better than to quote a very ill-informed blog.” He then went on to discuss the staffing situation, saying nobody was being asked to work Sundays and said there was no coercion (glad to hear it but I never actually said there was).

What makes his statement about the grievance all the more bizarre is that he hadn’t even been asked about it.

Strictly speaking, David Green is correct when he says there IS no grievance — but there WAS one and that is what I had said. Also, the person who brought the grievance is no longer a member of staff at An Lanntair although they were staff at the time they brought the grievance.

What I originally wrote was this: “A grievance had previously been lodged against chief executive Elly Fletcher and chairman David Green over their management of the Sunday trial…that grievance laid claim that many staff felt they had been put under stress by the way they were dealt with when they voiced their opposition to the opening.”

The grievance was heard in January by another senior board member and not upheld.

One final point about David Green’s interview. He also said that An Lanntair was “not a public body”, like a local authority or a health board, and “doesn’t belong to the community in that way”. He said: “It belongs to its members… and there are 270 or roughly that number…they own the organisation and the building and they elect six of their members to run the board.”

Membership of An Lanntair costs £25 a year. If we multiply that £25 by his 270, we come to £6,750. Over three years, that is just over £20,000 coming in from membership fees.

An Lanntair has just been awarded £1.21million from Creative Scotland for the next three years. That’s a whole lot of public money for an organisation that is ‘not a public body’. It also receives funding from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, which is due for review very soon.

David Green’s statement about the membership owning An Lanntair is legally true but, again, disingenuous because it is entirely dependant on public funding through Creative Scotland and the Comhairle. If An Lanntair lost its funding from Creative Scotland, its viability would be threatened. Not so, if it loses six or seven grand a year.

CRITICISM

Speaking of membership, one high-profile An Lanntair figure has cancelled his.

In a letter to the press at the weekend, Angus McCormack — former chairman of An Lanntair and David Green’s immediate predecessor — and wife Mary announced their decision.

“Dear Sir,” they wrote. “In light of An Lanntair’s recent decision to open on Sunday, we have decided to cancel our membership.” It was signed “Mary McCormack, former An Lanntair member” and “Angus McCormack, former chair of An Lanntair Board”.

The move follows criticism by another former An Lanntair chairman, Dr John Smith – who led the Lanntair for 10 years, during which time the new building was built — in my original blog.

For me, the position the An Lanntair leadership are taking on this, as they struggle to deal with the fallout and the criticism, raises more questions than it answers.

And anytime the An Lanntair chairman wants to apologise for making me out — on national radio — to be someone who makes up stories, then he knows where to find me.

One final word on the Lanntair story. For those of you who didn’t see Kevin McKenna’s opinion piece in The Guardian at the weekend, can I commend it to you?

It was excellent and very refreshing to see national coverage which avoided the usual stereotypes and caricatures. Follow this link — God knows, a day of rest is not to be sneered at. Especially on Lewis — to find it.

Until next time.

Katie

Comments 10

    1. While the statement that it wasn’t Rev James Maciver that was standing outside is factually correct, you fail to mention that the Rev that *WAS* standing outside was Rev David Fraser. McKenna was clearly confusing the two presumably because Rev Maciver had, in fact, commented publicly regarding the Sunday opening.

      If you were really that concerned about the truth being told, you would surely have properly corrected McKenna’s error rather than try to give the impression that his article had no basis in fact at all.

      1. I did offer bot criticism and the correct information in the Guardian’s comments section where the mistake was made and on the day it was published. The article was never corrected.

        My point stands. Thank you for your opinion.

        1. How many HebridesWriter readers would have bothered to search through a dozen or so pages of sneering drivel to find out if anyone – let alone you – had offered a correction in the Guardian’s comments section? Your point may stand – but only in your own mind.

          My point is what you wrote HERE – not in the Guardian’s comments and any fair minded reader would get the impression that your intent was to discredit McKenna’s article which doesn’t show your pro Sunday opening group in a very positive light at all.

    2. I am sorry you feel journalists aren’t serving you well right now, Iain. I remember our chat about the coverage over Leona’s shop opening on a Sunday and the storm that ensued when the LDOS sent her a letter voicing their (quite measured) protest.
      You were much more pleased with that coverage while I felt, and said to you, that I felt you had relished the opportunity it gave you and that you had made the most of it. “Look what we helped do,” you said. “We made an example of the LDOS.”
      It’s one thing to try to pull the media’s strings. It’s on another level, though, when you start crying foul because you don’t like where the op-eds are now going. You can’t have it all.
      As for mixing up the ministers, that was a simple mistake, as you well know.

  1. Thanks for this piece, Katie. I haven’t myself listened to that edition of Good Morning Scotland but I was indeed quoting your blog. You might be interested to know that the GMS team could not get anyone (presumably Mr Green) to be interviewed with me in recorded debate – An Lanntair refused to co-operate. I was interviewed alone in an Edinburgh studio. Kevin McKenna did write a very thoughtful piece and it is a shame it was rather spoiled by a careless mistake.

      1. Thanks, Katie. I think the refusal to debate was less dread of my averred debating skills than because there would have been such an embarrassing contrast of accents! – in the event, having now found a recording online – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09pytkb, from 130: 35 – it is painfully obvious in any event. I don’t get the impression that these are minds of the first rank or even semi-skilled media operatives and, having so exposed themselves on grandstanding from which it would now be very difficult to retreat, I suspect there is likely a degree of panic. One of the saddest aspects is the sheer banality of the cinematic offering: had they had the guts to screen something like ‘Call Me By Your Name,’ as I said in the recording, that would at least have had a certain heroic dignity. Two and a half hours of corporate American schlock? Na.

        1. Ah yes, John. That embarrassing contrast of accents. The elephant in the room. Can’t talk about it, though, lest we be accused of being racists. You can’t even say the word “incomer” now without the proverbial breaking loose. Apparently the chief executive, who is from Nottingham, dislikes that word very much. I’ve see from Iain Campbell’s comments elsewhere that the right lingo is “new islanders”.
          Now, I am not in the slightest bit racist and very uncomfortable with any kind of anti-incomer rhetoric, as I’m sure you know, but there is a profound issue here about minority cultures and a question about who the best people are to protect these cultures and lead their arts organisations. Unpalatable but true. Sorry to those who’ll be offended but if you don’t have leaders who understand the culture — or who even see it (the unseeing eye of those with majority privilege) — then you end up with situations like this An Lanntair disaster. Anyone with a cultural sensitivity chip would have seen how this was going to go.
          As for lacking even semi-skilled media operatives… absolutely. I look at some of the things pro-Sunday opening Lanntair staff are saying and doing and Facebook and howl to myself, ‘how could you be so stupid?’ The best one at the moment is the marketing assistant pitching in to help prominent WISS people bankroll new Lanntair members. All played out on a public page. And then of course there is the David Green issue, sailing very close to wind by describing what the report of a grievance as “absolutely untrue”. He hasn’t apologised and I’m sure he won’t, even though he should, because of that grandstanding you identified. It’s ridiculous and if it didn’t have such an element of tragedy then it might be funny.

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