The News of the World has branded the Newspaper Publishers’ Association method of deciding which national newspapers get places on Ministry of Defence pools to cover the terror war "crackpot".
The NoW and The Guardian ended up without a single place for a reporter or photographer out of 90 firm and reserved positions after last Friday’s bucket ballot process.
The initial result of the ballot, taken before the MoD confirmed it was to operate pools, was to give the Daily Star seven places, the Evening Standard eight and the Financial Times seven. Between them, the Sunday People and Sunday Mirror got 11 places – much to the NoW’s chagrin.
NoW manager Stuart Kuttner immediately told NPA director Steve Oram: "If this was a fair system then – to borrow a phrase from Quentin Letts – I was a Swahili-speaking Pot Noodle salesman. If that’s the best the NPA can offer, it’s a crackpot system."
Oram told Press Gazette the draw had been done under established and agreed arrangements.
When, just five hours after the draw, Express Newspapers pulled out of the pools, the NoW was awarded one reserve place for a photographer. The Standard increased its initial eight places to 11.
The Guardian, however, is not about to kick up a fuss. Managing editor Chris Elliott said the paper had Maggie O’Kane and Ian Traynor in north Afghanistan and Rory MacCarthy and Luke Harding in Pakistan.
"These things are the luck of the draw," he said, philosophically. Of those newspapers which pulled the highest number of places, Elliott said: "Maybe these people should do the Lottery rather than journalism because they would enjoy good fortune.
"We rely on our correspondents who have been filing fantastic reports with great courage – particul-arly the people in north Afghanistan."
The Sun will take up its allotted places but has pulled back the six correspondents it had in Pakistan and the US and was this week pulling out of Oman, as budgetary constraints bite at Wapping.
But Sun editor David Yelland said he felt Jamie Pyatt and photographer Harry Page in Pakistan would be in danger if they were in Afghanistan when the bombing began. "You shouldn’t put people’s lives at risk for the sake of Fleet Street willy-waving," he said.
By Jean Morgan