A Conservative MP and minister has urged his constituents not to read The Northern Echo after its editor condemned him for having “blacklisted” the newspaper.
Echo editor Peter Barron told in an editorial yesterday how James Wharton (pictured, Reuters), Stockton South MP and Northern Powerhouse minister, accused him of running weekly attacks on him in the newspaper and having “political bias”.
Barron said Wharton “refuses point blank to have anything to do with The Northern Echo. He refuses to take our calls or provide us with answers to our questions and has told me to inform my reporters not to call him.”
The editor wrote: “What Mr Wharton fails to grasp is that criticism is part of being a politician.”
On recent political coverage, he added: “It is true that The Northern Echo’s editorial comment sided, on balance, with the Labour Party at the last election but it was hardly a ringing endorsement rammed down the throats of our readers on the front page.
“It was a thoughtful view, reflecting on the disproportionate public sector cuts the North-East had faced during David Cameron’s first term in power while repeating the doubts we’d regularly expressed about Ed Miliband’s leadership.
“When a newspaper expresses an opinion on every other publication day, it would seem odd to me not to express an opinion on perhaps the most crucial day in five years.”
And on his reasoning for writing yesterday’s piece, Barron said: “In my view, it is important that The Northern Echo’s readers know that, when articles relating to Mr Wharton don’t include a comment from him, it has never been for the want of trying.
“It is important for them to know that the Northern Powerhouse minister has blacklisted the only paper with ‘Northern’ in its title – a title which has championed the north for nearly 150 years and was recently credited with playing an important role in the campaign to bring the Hitachi train-building factory to the region.
“James Wharton is an ambitious politician – but heaven help him if he ever has to deal with a truly hostile press.”
Wharton responded with a post on his Facebook page, saying: “The Editor appears in his own local paper more than any editor should (almost uniquely so as far as I can tell) and today has a go at me in the editorial because of my dispute with them over their unduly pro-Labour reporting.
“In the run up to the last election the Echo seemed to contact me almost weekly with one negative story or another they wanted to run. I am attacked by them more than any local Labour MP seems to be.”
He added: “I gave up talking to them a while ago, but then they would print that I ‘declined to comment’. As such I gave them a statement explaining my position and asking that any constituent with a concern contact my office directly and I would happily explain my view on whatever the subject of the article was.
“This seems to have led to today’s editorial. I am pleased it is all out in the open. I do not buy the Echo, do not consider their reporting balanced and I know that they are not actually very widely bought in Stockton South- the Gazette has something like 5/6 times the local circulation.
"Now this long lasting disagreement has been brought to the fore I would again ask that any constituent with a concern about anything they read in the Echo please feel free to contact me directly. Or even better, don’t read it. There are other ways to get more balanced local news.”