Did journalists let down the residents of Grenfell Tower?
Newsnight journalist John Sweeney, who has covered the aftermath of the 14 June tragedy in which 71 people died, will be on the panel along with local MP Emma Dent Coad (subject to Parliamentary business), former Kensington journalist turned media consultant Grant Feller and Sophie Barnes of Inside Housing.
The event will look at the demise of local newspaper journalism in Kensington and ask why concerns raised by residents before the fire were not highlighted by journalists.
In November 2016 the Grenfell Action Group blog said: “It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the KCTMO [Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation], and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders.”
A subsequent blog post on the day of the fire said: “All of our warnings fell on deaf ears and we predicted that a catastrophe like this was inevitable and just a matter of time.”
Grenfell blogger Edward Daffern, who lost everything in the fire, told the BBC’s Gemma Newby last week: “We’d been blogging for three or four years and you go back over that time there’s a lot of abusive behaviour evidenced forensically about what was happening to our community, but it wasn’t sexy so it never got picked up…
“If you look back now our whole community of North Kensington, the policy that the local authority was taking every public space and privatising it, that that could be missed by the BBC, by Channel Four, by these wider news agencies… The question should be for you, why did you miss it?
“Why aren’t our lives important enough for you?”
Inside Housing did highlight issues around Tower block fire safety before the Grenfell blaze, particularly the issue over flammable cladding panels. But the story was not considered to be of interest by the national media.
Back in 2014 the Kensington and Chelsea Chronicle ran a front page story covering residents’ concerns about asbestos on the site of a new school near Grenfell Tower.
But later that year the paper was closed by owner Trinity Mirror and its archive of online stories removed from the web.
In 2015, The Kensington and Chelsea news was revived as a free paper with one reporter writing for it from his home in Dorset whilst also providing content for two other editions.
But in July that paper was closed down leaving the borough of Kensington and Chelsea with no weekly newspaper or dedicated professional news website.
Tomorrow’s debate will also look at the decline of local news across London and the knock on effect that has had for democratic accountability and giving local residents a voice.
The event starts at 6.30pm in the Oliver Thompson Lecture Theatre at City, University of London, Northampton Square, Clerkenwell, London EC1V 0HB. Sign up for free here.