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December 24, 2014

Heroes of the year: Plebgate whistleblowers, Russia Today defectors and BJA winners make Press Gazette’s top ten

By William Turvill

Yesterday, Press Gazette named our top ten villains of the year

But after a year that has seen Press Gazette, no longer in print, record its best year for online traffic ever, and – we'd like to think –  make a difference to the journalism industry in some ways, it would seem a shame to end 2014 on a bad note.

The theme of the villains list was attacks on press freedom, and today's heroes list focuses largely on those who have done their best to defend journalism.

Here is the top ten list:

10 – Plebgate whistleblowers

The police officers who informed The Sun of Andrew Mitchell's rant at the gates of Downing Street risked their livelihood in order to expose the behaviour of a cabinet minister.

With the exception of Keith Wallis, who was imprisoned for falsely claiming to be a witness, the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to press charges on the whistleblowers.

But this was after they had been arrested and lost their jobs for speaking to a newspaper.

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After the High Court ruled that Andrew Mitchell probably did say "pleb", one of those whistleblowers, Jim Glanville, said:  “I was incensed by what Andrew Mitchell had said and I knew it would get covered up.

“Nobody was going to do anything about it. The Met’s hierarchy are always more afraid of upsetting politicians than looking after their own.

“I knew what I was doing. It was my decision and I didn’t involve anyone else. I went to a quiet place and picked up the phone.”

9 – Sara Firth and Liz Wahl

In July, Press Gazette was the first publication to report that Russia Today London correspondent Sara Firth had resigned over the station's 'biased' coverage of a plane crash in Ukraine.

“Yesterday when the story broke you get the kick in your stomach when you’re going to get the facts and it’s this huge story,” she told Press Gazette.

“And I walked into the newsroom and they were running an eye-witness account of God-knows who the person was blaming the Ukrainian government, and it is such a volatile situation.”

Firth, who told Press Gazette in an interview in 2012 that facts are her “religion”, said: “I said it then, if I was asked to burn the facts and not tell the truth I’d be a goner, and so I’m gone…

“And it’s the level of disrespect for the facts that really bugs me.

“And so I made my decision yesterday when we started covering the story and this morning woke up and I just knew that I can’t go back in any more.”

In March, American newsreader Liz Wahl made a live resignation from the channel's Washington DC bureau (video below).

She said she could no longer work for a network that "whitewashes" the actions of Russian president Vladmir Putin.

8 – Sir Ray Tindle

Yesterday, Trinity Mirror made Press Gazette's villains list for the closure this month of seven regional newspapers – and the loss of 50 jobs.

Sir Ray Tindle is on this list after he launched four new weekly newspapers for London.

The London Weekly News is a new title covering the centre of London. The other launches see the revival of defunct titles: the Westminster and Pimlico News (first established in 1857), the Kensington News (est 1869) and the Chelsea News (est 1857).

7 – Keith Vaz

In recent months, primarily since news emerged of police use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, Keith Vaz has been a staunch defender of the press.

The Home Affairs Select Committee chair called an inquiry into the RIPA scandal in the autumn.

On publication of the report earlier this month, he said: “RIPA is not fit for purpose.

"We were astonished that law enforcement agencies failed to routinely record the professions of individuals who have had their communications data accessed under the legislation.

“Using RIPA to access telephone records of journalists is wrong and this practice must cease. The inevitable consequence is that this deters whistleblowers from coming forward.

“The recording of information under RIPA is lamentably poor, and the whole process appears secretive and disorganised, without proper monitoring of what is being destroyed and what is being retained.”

The report also noted that Freedom of Information Act requests by Press Gazette to every police force in the country about RIPA use against journalists have either been ignored or refused.

The Labour MP has also this year questioned the length of bail being endured by various journalists arrested by the Metropolitan Police.

6 – John Witherow

Under John Witherow's editorship, The Times has been outperforming other newspapers in terms of year-on-year circulation change throughout the year. This is despite a 20 per cent cover price rise – from £1 to £1.20 – in January.

News UK also noted recently that Times Newspapers, which includes The Sunday Times, made a profit – of £1.7m – for the first time since 2001 in the year to June.

5 – Gavin Millar

Our highest non-journalist entrant, Gavin Millar QC has stood up for the rights of journalists on numerous occasions this year, particularly after the RIPA scandal broke.

Millar has been directly involved in defending The Sun, Mail on Sunday and Sally Murrer of the Milton Keynes Citizen, and has this year spoken out against police use of the act against them.

He has described police use of RIPA to find journalistic sources as "completely illegal" under the European Convention on Human Rights.

4 – The British Journalism Awards winners

Here is a list of the winners (minus a few who deserve special mention), presented with the awards at Stationers' Hall earlier this month:

Marie Colvin Award – Anthony Loyd, The Times

The Times’s Anthony Loyd was awarded the Marie Colvin prize in recognition of his 25-year career covering war zones.

Judges said: “Like Marie Colvin, Anthony Loyd has risked his life to report on the unfolding humanitarian disaster in Syria."

New Journalist of the Year – Tom Warren, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism

Judges said: “Tom made great use of data and technology to unearth stories and details. He picked targets that no-one else was looking at to bring new information to light on matters of real public interest.

“He used excellent detective work to reveal the privileged bidders who profiteered from the Royal Mail flotation, forcing the Government to release the full list.”

Local Heroes – Carl Eve, The Herald in Plymouth

Carl Eve won the Local Heroes award for his investigation into police failures to prosecute members of a child abuse ring.

Judges said: “This was a particularly difficult investigation which involved persuading police contacts and victims of crime to speak out.

“He has great contacts and uses old fashioned face to face reporting to get behind the headlines. It is the sort of in-depth local reporting which is under threat in the current climate.”

Politics Journalist of the Year – Times team

A team of journalists from The Times, comprising Greg Hurst, Francis Elliott, Rachel Sylvester and Alice Thomson, won the politics prize for stories headlined: ‘Angry Cameron rebukes rivals as Tory rift widens’, ‘Gove under fire for ‘Islamist school’s top Ofsted rating’ and ‘Cameron bumbles from one shambles to another with no sense of purpose’.

The judges said: “The Times’s team reporting on the political fallout of the row over Islamic faith schools shone a light on a serious policy dispute at the heart of government.

“It was one of the biggest political stories of the year and had a real impact on people in charge of government policy.

“Michael Gove was a big player in the Government up until this point and since then has been sidelined.”

Campaign of the Year – George Arbuthnott, The Sunday Times

George Arbuthnott won the campaign of the year for The Sunday Times for his work on slavery in modern-day Britain.

Judges said: “This was a campaign which showed the sort of campaigning investigative journalism pioneered by William Stead on the Pall Mall Gazette is alive and well on Fleet Street today.

“It exposed a little-reported scandal affecting some of most vulnerable people in the world and helped prompt the Government to table the Modern Slavery Bill.”

Innovation of the Year – The Guardian

The Guardian won the Innovation of the Year award for its NSA Files: Decoded project.

Judges said: “This feature set a new standard for interactive digital story-telling by a UK publication. It combines video, data and old-fashioned text-based journalism skills to explain the significance of Edward Snowden files on NSA surveillance in a more approachable and dynamic way than would ever be possible in print.

"The Guardian has continued to own this story by finding new ways to make it meaningful to people.”

Science and Technology Journalist of the Year (sponsored by Astellas) – Pallab Ghosh, BBC

The BBC’s Pallab Ghosh won the science and technology award for his reports exposing the failure of the Government’s badger culling programme.

The judges said: “This was one of those stories where if it wasn’t for people like Pallab the Governnent would have got away with doing what it wanted and ignoring the advice of its own scientists.

“There had been previous work where scientists had expressed concerns about the badger culls, lots of journalists were following this up. But Pallab was the only one to get hold of Defra’s own unpublished report showing that the culls were ineffective and inhumane.”

Photojournalist of the Year – David Rose, Telegraph

The judges said: “David’s pictures of the conflict in Ukraine were examples of news photography at its most dramatic. Brave and sympathetic, they were a potent demonstration of the way still print images have enduring power that video does not.”

Breaking News Award – Nick Craven and Ross Slater, The Mail on Sunday

The Mail on Sunday won the breaking news prize, for the best story of the year, for its story: ‘Crystal meth shame of bank chief’.

The judges highly commended the Telegraph for its Qatar corruption story, but felt the Paul Flowers story “was a great example of old fashioned tabloid journalism which held the powerful to account”.

They said: “At its heart was a genuine public interest story. The Co-op was the last bank you would think would be involved in corruption. How could somebody like Paul Flowers get appointed to such an important position?”

Foreign Affairs Journalist of the Year – Patrick Cockburn, The Independent/i

Patrick Cockburn of The Independent won the foreign affairs prize for his coverage of the emergence of ISIS.

The judges said: “Patrick Cockburn spotted the emergence of Isis much earlier than anybody else and wrote about it with a depth of understanding that was just in a league of its own. Nobody else was writing that stuff at that time, and the judges wondered whether the Government should considering pensioning off the whole of MI6 and hiring Patrick Cockburn instead.

“The breadth of his knowledge and his ability make connections is phenomenal.”

3 – Sunday Times Insight Team

The Insight Team, Jonathan Calvert and Heidi Blake, deserve special mention after claiming three prizes at the BJAs – including the investigation of the year and sports journalist of the year for their investigation into FIFA.

Judges said: “It was the story that almost gave Sepp Blatter a moment’s pause before being re-elected for another 97 years.

“The Sunday Times was not quite first into the field, when it came to exposing corruption around the Qatar World Cup bid, but it dominated the story as soon as it came into play.

“Its FIFA Files investigation had global impact. It reopened the whole issue of whether Qatar should the venue for the 2022 World Cup by exposing incontrovertible detailed evidence of widespread corruption.

“The initial Qatar Files 11-page investigation of June 2014 was tour de force of broadsheet investigative journalism: a superb exclusive story, brilliantly told exposing genuine corruption and injustice in the world’s most popular and financially lucrative sport.”

The team was also named business journalism of the year for an investigation into RBS ‘killing off good firms for profit’.

2 – Andrew Norfolk

Times reporter Andrew Norfolk was named journalist of the year for his long-running investigation into child abuse. Judges said he “stood out as a magnificent example of what can be achieved by an ordinary reporter”.

The judges’ statement said: “It was a local story which exposed an appalling, unpalatable and almost unbelieveable scandal. Norfolk and The Times refused to give up until the child grooming gangs were exposed and the problem  was addressed at a national level.

“It was an investigation which began with a front page story in January 2011 and culminated in the Jay report published in August this year which revealed council and law enforcement failures which contributed to 1,400 children being abused in Rotherham alone.

“It has been journalism which has made a difference, which gave a voice to people who no-one was listening to and which proved that sometimes journalists can step in when police, local and central government have all failed.”

1 – Save Our Sources signatories

Press Gazette launched the Save Our Sources campaign after we were the first publication to reveal the police secretly obtained the phone records of The Sun newsdesk and political editor, Tom Newton Dunn, to find the paper's source of the Plebgate scandal story.

It has since emerged that police forces for Essex, Suffolk, Thames Valley and, seemingly, Cleveland have used the same techniques to find journalistic sources.

The Save Our Sources petition – which you can still sign here – has now been handed to the Interception of Communications Commissioner, who is in the process of writing a report on police use of RIPA against journalists.

It has been signed by more than 1,250 editors, reporters, freedom of speech campaigners and media law experts.

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