MEDIA REVIEW by HAMISH MACKAY
Excellence in campaigning and investigative journalism has been honoured at the Society of Editors’ inaugural Media Freedom Awards held at the Globe Theatre in London.
And it was a triumphant evening for The Scotsman’s deputy political editor Conor Matchett who was voted the Regional Journalist of the Year for his sterling work on investigations into care home deaths during Covid-19 and ‘a questionable deal involving a smelter and hydroplant’.
The Journalist of the Year national award went to Edinburgh-born Pippa Crerar, pictured left, for her endeavours as political editor of the Daily Mirror. Pippa, who has subsequently joined The Guardian as its political editor, is really becoming accustomed to picking up significant awards over the past couple of years.
The Glasgow Times was highly commended in the Regional Campaign of the Year category for its ‘Beat The Squeeze’ push to help readers beat the cost-of-living crisis.
These high-profile awards, which set the benchmark for a celebration of UK public interest journalism, brought together more than 200 journalists from all sectors of the UK news media for a ceremony presented by Lucrezia Millarini, of ITV News, and attended by Michelle Donelan, the UK Government’s Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Held in association with WeShop, and with support from Camelot, Newsworks and the Google News Initiative, a full list of the award winners can be accessed on the Society of Editors website.
This is the latest of several top awards for The Scotsman’s Conor Matchett who told HoldTheFrontPage (HTFP): ‘This award was a big shock – particularly given the strength of the other entries who equally deserved to win. It makes all those hours poring over FOI documents and submissions more than worth it. The stories I submitted are all about holding the Scottish Government’s feet to the fire for what is often an overly secretive approach to information and it is great to have that work and effort recognised. A massive thanks to the Society of Editors for the award and to those at The Scotsman who have supported me and given me a wonderful platform for these stories’.
Conor Matchett broke the latest story in the Scottish feries fiasco when he reported in The Scotsman this week about the much delayed Glen Sannox ferry being built in Port Glasgow in the nationalised Fergusons shipyard without any pipes in the funnel and painted on windows.
Portsmouth’s daily newspaper, The News, won the Regional Campaign of the Year for its efforts to stop the construction of cross-Channel power cable Aquind which critics say would cause ‘havoc’ in the city and threaten the local environment. And Belfast’s Sunday Life lifted the Regional Investigation of the Year award for its probe into South East Antrim UDA.
Tanya wins top award
Northern Ireland journalist Tanya Fowles, who has shone a light on spurious attempts by criminals to keep their identities secret, has been named the UK’s Local Democracy Reporter of the Year.
The BBC has given the annual award to Tanya who works for Newsquest’s Enniskillen-based weekly, the Impartial Reporter, with the judges praising her ‘skill, eye for detail and persistence’.
Tanya also works as a freelance court reporter and HTFP has reported on numerous instances in recent months of her work challenging bids by court defendants, including convicted paedophiles, to have reporting restrictions imposed on their cases. Scotland also featured among the award winners – thanks to Donald Turvill, of Edinburgh Live, who triumphed in the category for the Best Use of Freedom of Information.
Tanya and Donald received their awards as part of the annual Local Democracy Reporting Service conference, which was attended by almost 150 local democracy reporters from across the UK. Presenting the awards was Jackie Weaver, who is best known for appearing in an online video of a chaotic meeting of Handforth Town Council.
Category judge Lynne Anderson, deputy chief executive of the News Media Association said: ‘Tanya’s journalism ticked all the boxes of the judging criteria – and then some. Her reporting displays skill, an eye for detail, and a healthy dose of persistence to get her stories over the line. Her coverage of sexual abuse and drug use at a child safeguarding facility was a brilliant example of journalism shining a light into dark corners to bring out the truth and hold those in power to account’.
The other award winners were:
Best Broadcast or Use of Multimedia
Winner: Eddie Bisknell, Derby Telegraph
Best Use of Social Media
Winner: Anna Whittaker, Notts TV
The George Makin Award
Winner: Hannah Brown, Cambridge News
Story of the Year
Winner: Carmelo Garcia, Gloucestershire Live
MATT’S cartoon illustrates Journalists’ Charity festive card
A splendidly eye-catching cartoon, donated by MATT, is once again the main feature of the Journalists’ Charity festive card. This year he gives us an enterprising IT angle with ‘The Three Wise Men on Zoom’.
Cartoonist Matt Pritchett comes from a notably talented family. His father Oliver was a columnist for The Daily Telegraph for several decades and his grandfather is the writer V S Pritchett. After studying graphics at art college, Matt began working as a waiter in a pizza restaurant, drawing cartoons in his spare time. His first cartoon was published in The New Statesman and he soon began drawing cartoons for The Daily Telegraph diary.
Following the death of Mark Boxer in 1988, Matt was hired by Max Hastings to be The Daily Telegraph’s new cartoonist. His first cartoon in this role came the day after the newspaper was printed with the wrong date – leading it to make a front-page apology accompanied by a cartoon stating: ‘I hope I have a better Thursday than I did yesterday’.
Matt became an MBE in the 2002 New Year Honours for services to journalism, and in 2005 Press Gazette inducted him into its Hall of Fame as one of the 40 most influential journalists of the previous four decades. He has won the British Press Awards Cartoonist of the Year award several times.
Do Rupert Murdoch’s affections stray from Donald Trump?
Regrettably, it is only occasionally I dip into the Financial Times – a most accomplished, polished and hugely informative newspaper. However, when I took the plunge recently, I was rewarded with an excellent article headlined: ‘Murdoch affections stray from Trump to DeSantis’, illustrated with a copy of a front page of the New York Post depicting Donald Trump astride a wall (see below).
Subsequently, Trump has announced he will run again for the US Presidency and will almost certainly face a bruising nomination battle with the Republican Party’s rising star, Ron DeSantis, the Florida Governor. Trump would have expected the backing of media giant Rupert Murdoch but seemingly it is not to be.
The Financial Times (FT) reports: ‘A marriage of convenience that paid huge political and financial dividends has ruptured after Rupert Murdoch’s media outlets branded Donald Trump a loser, with the former US President hitting back with a blistering statement accusing the media mogul of going all in for his rival Ron DeSantis’.
We learn that an ‘abrupt break-up’ came after the Republican Party’s disappointing performance in the US mid-term elections which many right-wing pundits attributed to Trump, and amounts to ‘an earthquake in the landscape of conservative media and politics’.
The FT reveals: ‘Using his publications as his stationery, Murdoch moved first. The New York Post’s front page featured an oversized picture of Trump tumbling from a brick wall, an allusion to the Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme, with a huge headline ‘Trumpty Dumpty’ and the tagline: ‘Don (who couldn’t build a wall) had a great fall – can all the GOP’s men put the party back together again?’
The FT continued: ‘The Wall Street Journal, also owned by Murdoch’s News Corp, published an editorial on the same day with the strapline: He has now flopped in 2018, 2020, 2021 and 2022. The paper’s leader writers wrote: Trump has botched the 2022 elections… he has led Republicans into one political fiasco after another’.
Even Fox News, the cable channel that has held Trump in a tight embrace for years, published a story on its website quoting conservatives calling for the party to ‘move on’ from the former President: ‘On Thursday night, Trump berated the no longer great New York Post and other Murdoch outlets for lining up behind DeSantis, who appears to be the new object of Murdoch’s attention’.
Trump wrote in retaliation: ‘News Corp, which is Fox, the Wall Street Journal and the no longer great New York Post… is all in for Governor Ron DeSanctimonious, an average REPUBLICAN Governor with great Public Relations’. He said DeSantis was disloyal and ‘playing games’, and criticised the Governor’s management of the coronavirus pandemic which brought him to national attention among conservatives.
One former News Corp employee said of Murdoch’s apparent shift to DeSantis: ‘Rupert likes to pick political winners and he’s good at it’. The FT goes on to say: ‘In Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff’s account of the Trump White House, he quotes Murdoch in 2016, shortly after the presidential election, calling the incoming president a fucking idiot‘. However as Trump’s rise became inevitable, an alliance was formed between Trump and Murdoch. Fox News gave Trump a platform and in 2016 Fox News became the most-watched basic cable channel on US television – outperforming even primetime drama and entertainment shows.
The FT quotes Rodney Tiffen, a University of Sydney professor and Murdoch biographer, as pointing out: ‘A lot of the commentators at Fox were very keen on Trump, and some probably still are, but what do the Murdochs [family] feel in their heart of hearts? I’m not sure they have a heart of hearts. They have a calculating machine about what’s best pragmatically. They’ve jumped ship to someone with a very similar set of appeals that Trump has, without all the baggage. And someone who looks like a winner. Which is always very important for Murdoch’.
The FT piece concludes: ‘In his broadside, Trump insisted he would prevail with or without Murdoch, [exclaiming]: This is just like 2015 and 2016, a Media Assault (Collusion!), when Fox News fought me to the end until I won, and then they couldn’t have been nicer or more supportive‘.
These are certainly very interesting times in US politics.
The Scotsman forces U-turn on Scottish Government secrecy
HTFP reports that The Scotsman has forced a U-turn on an attempt to keep details about misconduct at the heart of the Scottish Government secret. The publications says that Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed outcomes of ministerial misconduct probes will be made public if they are partially or fully upheld by the Scottish Government after coverage of the issue by The Scotsman.
HTFP reports: ‘The Scotsman was told in June that it was not in the public interest for the outcome of any misconduct complaint made against previous and current ministers to be released, meaning the outcomes of any investigation, including potential bullying or harassment complaints, would have been kept secret.
‘At the time, the decision was justified on data protection grounds and the suggestion that publishing the outcomes of complaints would lead to civil servants being less likely to come forward when there are issues. But it has since forced a backlash from opposition parties in Holyrood, prompting Ms Sturgeon to now reverse the decision.
‘Where a formal complaint is upheld either in full or partially, ministers will be named and the outcome published alongside a redacted version of the decision report to protect the identity of the complainant. The name of ministers who faced complaints which were not upheld will also be published online for a period of six months, the Scottish Government said.’
The Scotsman’s award-winning deputy political editor, Conor Matchett, told HTFP: ‘The Scotsman asked Scottish ministers for outcomes of misconduct probes against them, and shockingly the government claimed it was not in the public interest for any outcomes of these investigations, past, present or future, to be made public.
This followed news one former minister was subject to misconduct complaints, with the government citing data protection rules for not telling the public. It was baffling how ministers could be protected in this way when it was their behaviour under the microscope, and our report led to political pressure which forced a U-turn days later in the Holyrood chamber when Nicola Sturgeon, pictured left, pledged to look at the rules again.
‘Today’s announcement is the completion of that U-turn, one I am not convinced would have happened without our story forcing the issue and highlighting the lack of transparency. It is also an admission that the government’s approach to transparency did not take into account the public interest in these probes properly. This change is a key victory for transparency and will improve ministerial accountability in Scotland.’
Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, said: ‘The Scottish Government is determined to build a culture in which concerns are addressed early and in which all those who are involved with a complaint have confidence and can engage constructively and fairly in the process’.
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Caithness-born Hamish Mackay is now in his 57th year as an occasional/sometimes regular contributor to the UK’s exceedingly diverse media market. His media column appears weekly in THE SCOTTISH REVIEW