Whispers of strife at The Voice

Can Britain's best known black newspaper survive the disappearance of £400,000 and the sudden departure of its chief executive?


The Voice, Britain's best known black newspaper, has gone through a bumpy patch that threatens the future of the accident-prone paper.
The Voice's owner, Val McCalla, is leading an investigation into alleged financial irregularities after £400,000 of the paper's money could not apparently be accounted for.

The Voice, Britain's best known black newspaper, has gone through a bumpy patch that threatens the future of the accident-prone paper. The Voice's owner, Val McCalla, is leading an investigation into alleged financial irregularities after £400,000 of the paper's money could not apparently be accounted for.

Earlier this month, the paper's chief executive Maxine McCalla - Val McCalla's cousin and protégée - resigned on grounds of ill-health, and a prestigious Voice-organised awards ceremony had to be cancelled.

The Brixton-based Voice, set up in 1982, has been riven in recent years over staff disputes, management methods and concerns over declining sales.

Sussex-based millionaire Val McCalla, noted for his autocratic style, is said to be stunned by the alleged financial problems. He has organised a team of lawyers and accountants to work their way through the Voice accounts.

"We have found certain irregularities in the accounts, things that disturbed me," he said. "We are not talking about small stuff but huge sums - hundreds of thousands of pounds. Now I am looking into what contracts have been signed and what money has been paid." He has not called in the police.

Staff were expecting the inquiry to be completed as early as this week.

Last week, a notice went up in The Voice's office saying that Maxine McCalla had resigned after two years at the helm. Editor Mike Best was quoted as saying that Ms McCalla's resignation had received "mixed reactions" in the office. "She said there were other areas in her life she wanted to explore."

As a result of Maxine McCalla's departure, the paper has decided to cancel this year's Voice Community Awards - a major blow for the paper. Guests lined up for the ceremony included Will Smith, Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg.

In her late thirties, Ms McCalla, who could not be contacted yesterday, lives with her teenage daughter in Brighton. She was rumoured to be paid £150,000 a year and drive a top-of-the-range BMW. Her time as chief executive was noted for a number of staff sackings. In addition, some directors resigned shortly after she took up the post, and a number of staff sackings followed.

Last year, the former editor Annie Stewart and head of advertising Yvonne Laing, were fired. Both have received out-of-court settlements. In 1996, another editor, Winsome Cornish, was awarded £13,000 for unfair dismissal.

Controversy has dogged the paper. It was blamed for the Brixton riots of 1995. The day before the demonstration about the death of Wayne Douglas, it ran the headline "Tell us the truth" and suggested that Douglas may have been beaten by the police before he died.

In an interesting twist, insiders are blaming the appearance of an article in last week's Evening Standard revealing The Voice's latest misfortunes, on staff at the rival New Nation. A number of disgruntled Voice staff have joined New Nation since it was set up in the early 1990s. The article also claimed that "circulation is in freefall after criticism from both inside and outside the black community for low standards."

The Standard said The Voice's circulation was rumoured to be between 12,000 and 14,000, "a quarter of sales in the 1980s". Insiders at the Voice reacted angrily, pointing out that the paper has an ABC audited circulation of 34,000. The New Nation circulation is not independently audited.

The Voice has been accused of always portraying the Afro-Caribbean community as victims within British society - despite Val McCalla's own personal success. But it has been an important outlet for the community, breaking stories and highlighting inner-city issues. It now knows it has to put its own house in order urgently to remain a successful, high-profile voice for the black community.

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