Nationals divided as Mail and Telegraph boycott awards

By Dominic Ponsford

An Associated Newspapers and Telegraph Group boycott has led this
year’s British Press Awards to be likened to the 1980 Olympics when
America refused to send a team.

But in the words of Pat Pilton, elected by all the national
newspaper editors to help review the awards: “You don’t think about
that when you get your gold medal.”

The two groups have declined
to comment to Press Gazette on their exact reasons for the boycott, but
they have said there is an “insuperable conflict of interest” with the
involvement of Matthew Freud because he runs the PR company, Freud
Communications.

The row over the future of the Press Gazette-run
awards first erupted days after last year’s event when 11 editors said
they could no longer support it.

They complained that it had
become rowdy, questions were raised about the judging process and Bob
Geldof caused offence with a speech in which he called one heckler a
“twat”.

After Freud and Piers Morgan bought Press Gazette in
June, all national newspaper editors met as the Press Awards Forum and
elected Press Association consultant editor Pilton as chairman.

Pilton
said: “It all started off with Paul Dacre [Daily Mail editor] after
last year’s event, saying the industry should have control of the
awards and the judging process, even if that’s through Press Gazette at
the end of the day.

“He asked Paul Potts [PA chief executive] to
set up the Press Awards Forum with representatives of all the national
newspaper groups. I was elected chairman at the first meeting, as an
independent.

“After three months in which Freud had pretty much
given us what we wanted, when it came to a vote the Mail and Telegraph
groups voted against, because they said there was an insuperable
conflict of interest as Matthew Freud ran a PR organisation.”

It is understood that the Mail and Telegraph titles also have concerns about Morgan’s involvement.

A
second proposal, from the Mail and Telegraph, that the awards be run by
the British Journalism Review, was rejected by the other editors.

And
finally, a compromise motion was agreed by all but the Telegraph, Mail
and Express titles, that the event be run by Press Gazette this year
and then reconsidered.

Pilton said: “They could have said at the first meeting that there was a conflict of interest with Freud or Morgan.

“Freud
has conceded the whole judging process back to the industry – the
people in charge of the judging are representatives of the national
newspapers, appointed by the editors.

There’s no way Freud or Morgan could influence any of the judging.”

Pilton said the reaction of other editors to the Associated/Telegraph boycott has been “mixed”.

“We
originally said that whatever happened we would all stay united, but
because of the Mail and Telegraph stance we had to go with the
majority, otherwise there would have been no awards this year.

“Some
people have seen it as a positive thing, they have more chance of
winning. In some ways it is like the Olympics when the Americans didn’t
send a team, you don’t think about that when you get your gold medal.”

Observer editor Roger Alton also used the Olympics analogy when asked to comment.

He
said: “My view is that boycotts are extremely silly, mean-minded and
pointless. The idea that anyone who got a gold in the Moscow Olympics
didn’t deserve it because America wasn’t taking part – I doubt if
anybody would say that.

“It deprives journalists of the chance of
getting honoured by their colleagues, which is a very nice thing and
doesn’t happen very often. It’s bad for journalism and bad for
journalists.”

Press Gazette managing director Simon Read said:
“It’s a shame that the excellent work by journalists at some national
newspapers will not be recognised at this year’s awards. The decision
to withdraw some titles seems to be based on an irrational prejudice.

“A
successful awards ceremony is essential for the strength of a vibrant,
fair and informative trade journal for journalists. With or without
these groups, we look forward to hosting the ceremony in March.”

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