Future of BPA to be thrashed out following protests

By Dominic Ponsford

As 11 editors threatened to pull out of the “unedifying” British
Press Awards, Press Gazette editor Ian Reeves has written to them all
in a bid to find common ground for next year’s event.

The editors issued a statement on Friday saying they were concerned about the decline in “conduct and prestige” of the event.

Guardian
editor Alan Rusbridger, one of the 11, said: “Everybody was a bit
dismayed by the ceremony itself… I felt general unease among people
talking on the night and the next day that it wasn’t really a terribly
edifying spectacle.”

News International red-tops took eight of the top prizes and the company had a large contingent at the awards ceremony.

Editors
are also understood to be concerned about a ten-minute speech made by
singer Bob Geldof who went up to congratulate The Sun on its
award-winning campaign which led to the Band Aid 20 single.

Geldof
threatened to punch a heckler from the Mirror tables and called him a
“twat”. He also condemned several newspapers’ coverage of Africa.

In
Friday’s statement, the editors of The Guardian, The Observer, and
Telegraph, Independent, Express and Mail daily and Sunday titles all
said: “The decline in the conduct and prestige of the British Press
Awards has prompted a number of national newspapers editors to announce
that they can no longer support this event in its present format.”

The
statement added: “The organisation of these awards brings little credit
to the industry or to the newspapers who win them. Following the
ceremony, discussions are now going on about what should happen in the
future”.

The Evening Standard has signed up to the statement.

Prizes
to Rupert Murdoch’s tabloids this year included Scoop of the Year for
the News of the World for revealing David Beckham’s affair, Newspaper
of the Year for the NoW, and Front Page of the Year for The Sun’s
“Hutton Report Leaked”.

In all, the 28 awards were divided: 11
for the red-top tabloids, four for midmarket papers, and 13 for the
up-market broadsheet or compact newspapers.

One senior newspaper
executive said there was concern that the NoW’s scoop about Beckham’s
affair was an example of kiss-and-tell chequebook journalism which did
not deserve to be recognised with an award.

Rusbridger said: “I
think of all the enormous risks that some journalists take during the
course of the year, particularly since 9/11, to get stories that really
matter. We had on our table our reporter in Iraq, Gaith, who has worked
under enormous danger throughout the last year. He’d never been to one
of these before and I wondered what he was making of it all.”

He
added: “The News of the World did brilliantly within its own market.
It’s just that if you look at what happened in the world last year and
the story we want to tell people about what sort of journalism is
important, then these awards send out a certain type of message.

I don’t think it would do any harm to sit down and talk about that.”

Rusbridger
suggested moving the ceremony to a lunchtime and looking for judges who
are “more detached” from the newspaper industry. Currently each
national newspaper is invited to nominate judges for the event.

Daily
Mail managing editor Charles Garside said: “This has clearly been
building for some time. Many editors feel the format, conduct and
criteria now need urgent review to restore credibility and a sense of
pride to the proceedings – even the editor of Press Gazette struggled
to make himself heard at the very start of the proceedings – American
journalists and their public know the prestige of winning a Pulitzer
prize. Sadly that’s not the case here and the British press deserves
better.”

Independent editor Simon Kelner, who won Newspaper of
the Year last year, said: “My concern is that there are too many awards
and the whole event has become a bit overblown. It’s become less about
the awards and more about the night.

“I’d also like judges to be
appointed at the start of the year and to read the papers as they are
published. It’s a more realistic test of, for instance, whether a
columnist has nailed a subject to read it on the day rather than as a
cutting several months later.”

The British Press Awards have been
in existence for more than 40 years and has been organised by Press
Gazette for nearly half that time. The magazine is currently up for
sale as part of the break-up of Quantum Business Media.

Press
Gazette editor Ian Reeves wrote to all the national newspaper editors
this week, and plans to discuss specific grievances with them
individually.

He said: “We have the most vibrant, competitive and
diverse newspaper industry in the world. The great journalism it
produces – in all its forms – deserves to be celebrated. Some editors
clearly have reservations about the manner in which this should be done
and I’ll be listening closely to them over the coming weeks.”

NoW
editor Andy Coulson said of the boycott: “We feel the papers
threatening to withdraw would have been less offended by the ceremony
had they won more awards. I’m delighted that a jury – made up almost
entirely of experts with non red-top backgrounds – unanimously voted us
Newspaper of the Year.”

Sun editor Rebekah Wade said: “For years
there’s been a deafening silence from these editors over the judging
process and the bad behaviour.

“This mock indignation, in a year
when they didn’t win anything, can’t be taken seriously. As we say on
the terraces, you only sing when you’re winning.”

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