Members meeting with Vaughan Smith on WikiLeaks

Members of the Frontline Club got together on Thursday 20 January for what chair John Owen described as an “unprecedented meeting of the clan”.

Called to discuss Club founder Vaughan Smith’s support of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his decision to give him a bail address, the meeting was an opportunity for members to express their views on events up until now and on the way forward for the Club and its membership.

The meeting was filmed but after those who attended were asked if they agreed to it being put online it was decided that it would not be.

Vaughan began by outlining his relationship with Julian Assange, explaining his decision to support him, which he has described at length here and the time that Assange had spent time at the Club as a paying guest.

Overall there was widespread support for Vaughan’s stance and a number of members said that they were proud to be associated with the Club.

The main areas of concern were that Vaughan was seen as a spokesman for WikiLeaks and that the distinction between his personal support for Julian Assange and WikiLeaks and the Club could get lost in the reporting of the story.

It was suggested that the Trust should take on the responsibility of the PR and appoint a spokesperson to relieve Vaughan of what had become an “impossible task” of dealing with the press.

While there was a great deal of support expressed for the WikiLeaks operation, some journalists were concerned that the Club should be impartial and not take on a campaigning or advocacy position.

When a member asked if it had been decided that the Frontline Club would be a campaigning club, Vaughan responded that if it is a campaigning organisation “it is for independent journalism and debate”.

He also added that looking ahead he did not want the Frontline Club “to be defined by Julian Assange” but that it was "essential to vigorously support the right to publish".

The need to clarify the roles and governance of Club, the Trust and the members was discussed, particularly in light of the decision to invite Nick Griffin to speak at a Q&A session after a screening of The Battle for Barking.

It was agreed that the Trust’s editorial guidelines would be reviewed and that we would look at ways, including use of social media, to ensure that members’ views are represented.