Three regional morning newspapers, two national magazines and a weekly newspaper are joining forces to demand the Government holds a public inquiry into the foot and mouth disease outbreak.
Barrie Williams, editor of the Northcliffe-owned Western Morning News, an outspoken critic of the way the Government has handled the crisis in the West Country, contacted Trinity Mirror’s Western Mail and The Journal, Newcastle, and Reed’s Farmers Weekly when he realised all of them were protesting at the decision to hold three inquiries, including 10 mini-inquiries, in private.
Now the six newspapers, owned by different media groups and all at the centre of areas affected by the disease, are organising a joint petition amongst their 2.1 million readers to be presented to No. 10 Downing Street on the resumption of Parliament.
Editors Ged Henderson of The Journal and Stephen Howe of Farmers Weekly had launched petitions ahead of the joint campaign.
Farmers Weekly had already joined with IPC’s Horse and Hound and the Press Gazette Regional Newspaper of the Year, the Cumberland News, to call for a public inquiry.
Williams began his campaign last week by calling Prime Minister Tony Blair a coward on the Western Morning News front page.
He told Press Gazette: "The announcement by the Government was an absolute disgrace. It was a complete cover-up.
"They have gone for no less than 10 of these mini inquiries headed by quangoists.
"I thought it would be a really good idea if we showed strength in numbers and banded together on this one. That’s a very powerful lobby."
Howe said: "Never before have so many independent titles come together with one message. Only a public inquiry will guarantee full, unvarnished answers to all the questions surrounding the causes and handling of this devastating disease. This [the joint campaign] will give it a really good oomph and between us we’ll keep it going. It is a good example of the responsible press getting together to campaign."
Horse and Hound readers are particularly concerned about how the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has chosen to "rubbish" farming and rural businesses, said editor Arnold Garvey.
Farmers Weekly has received more than 8,000 returned petition forms and Horse & Hound has counted 5,000.
The RIM-owned Yorkshire Post is also partially involved in the initiative. It too has begun campaigning vigorously for a public inquiry and is supporting the joint effort while it considers whether to launch a petition.
Williams is hoping national newspapers will join in.
By Jean Morgan and Ruth Addicott