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Annual comment awards scrapped year after Times withdrew all nominees in shortlist row

An annual comment awards event has been scrapped after a row over last year’s shortlist led to the Times withdrawing all of its nominees.

The newspaper pointed to the treatment of some of its columnists in explaining its decision to pull them from the Editorial Intelligence UK Comment Awards held in November last year.

The awards have run every year since 2009, but Julia Hobsbawm, founder of awards host Editorial Intelligence, has confirmed they will not run this year.

Hobsbawm told the Standard’s The Londoner diary: “I realise the law of diminishing returns with running awards… and am closing this chapter.”

She said it was a “sign of the times” that the 2018 awards had been so inflammatory, and that “every awards ceremony now has to spend a lot of time firefighting as well as doing its business”.

Ahead of the 2018 awards, judge Helen Belcher, co-founder of activist group Trans Media Watch, objected to the nomination of Times columnist Janice Turner in the Commentator of the Year category.

Belcher made what Turner (pictured) called a “ghastly accusation” linking her work in the Times with a rise in trans suicides and asked for her name to be removed from the list of judges.

The organisers refused because judging had already taken place.

Meanwhile two shortlisted Guardian writers – Gary Younge and Nesrine Malik – protested the nomination of Times columnist Melanie Phillips in the Society and Diversity category, saying they objected to her views because of their “bigotry and divisiveness”.

The organisers of the awards said Phillips was “judged fairly” and declined to remove any of the writers from the shortlist.

Hobsbawm said she had not ruled out relaunching the awards “in a global context”.

Editorial Intelligence will focus instead on the publication next week of Commentland, a book featuring newly-commissioned writing about comment journalism over the past decade to mark the tenth anniversary of the Comment Awards.

The more than 20 contributors to the book include Rachel Johnson, GQ editor Dylan Jones and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, as well as MPs, academics and economists.

Picture: Chris McAndrew/The Times

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