National media rally behind calls for 'open' F&M inquiry

The BBC and three national newspaper groups are seeking leave to intervene in an application on 19 February by three regional newspapers and two magazines for a judicial review of the Government’s decision not to hold a public inquiry into the foot and mouth crisis.

The broadcaster and Associated Newspapers, the Telegraph Group and Mirror Group Newspapers want to support the Western Morning News, The Journal, Newcastle, the Western Mail, Farmers Weekly and Horse & Hound and are throwing their weight behind the attempt to force the Government to keep the public informed through reports in the media.

On Monday, representatives of the five original publications presented a 146,500-signature petition from their readers at 10 Downing Street calling for an open inquiry.

Several regional inquiries are currently ongoing as the last county, Northumberland, was declared free of foot and mouth this week.

Neil Fowler, editor of the Western Mail, welcoming the intervention of the national media, said: "We are gradually getting support from other media but it has been a bit lonely so far."

He and Ged Henderson, editor of The Journal, agree that the petition is an excellent example of what a union of publications, stretching across the UK, can achieve by pooling their readerships.

London solicitors Reynolds Porter Chamberlain are representing all three national newspaper groups.

Head of the firm’s media department, Liz Hartley, said: "It was a national crisis and the public should be kept informed on the progress of the inquiry."

Harvey Kass, Associated Newspapers legal director, said: "The press has a vital role to play in presenting members of the public with information and a forum with which to express their opinions.

"The media should be entitled to report for the benefit of the public on the progress of the inquiry and the evidence heard.

"We are taking this action because there is no justification for the inquiry taking place behind closed doors."

The BBC will submit evidence in support of a publicly held inquiry, based on Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act covering the freedom of information.

 

By Jean Morgan

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