Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 25 October 2014

Plenty of praise among some justified complaints

Complaint: one we got wrong

As we go into a New Year, it's traditional for newspapers and columnists to review the 12 months gone by and make some predictions for the year ahead.

Retrospection is one thing, but normally I view all attempts to predict the future as foolhardy; however, in the spirit of the season, here goes.

The year 2012 was a fairly normal one in newspaper terms - lots of scoops, some excellent in-depth reporting and the usual spats and catfights with politicians, lawyers and others.

For the Readers' Editor, it has been undoubtedly an interesting one. Since the service was set up in the middle of 2011, a long list of complaints has been resolved, mediated upon and rejected.

There has been virtually zero engagement with the legal classes since (not unnaturally, I suppose, as it kind of cuts out the middleman). But politicians, civil servants and the public in general have embraced the service including, on several occasions, submissions in poetry.

Complaints have ranged from the Concordia cruise ship disaster front page that went viral on the internet due to the inappropriate juxtaposition of a Win A Dream Holiday promotion, to the controversial use of the word 'mulatto' by a columnist to describe people of mixed race.

One of the most serious was the use of a five-year-old photograph of a child victim of football violence to illustrate a contemporary outbreak. That led to changes in our procedures and an apology to all affected.

But the Readers' Editor is mandated by the readership to defend the paper where necessary, too, and this included chastising a Belfast city councillor for demanding 'sanctions' against us for revealing details of an investment package before an official Press conference. What nonsense!

Readers also rallied to support reporter Adrian Rutherford after he was menaced and jostled and had his phone stolen by masked yobs during loyalist rioting earlier this month.

I'm glad the worst tabloid excesses have been curtailed by the Leveson inquiry, but unhappy that blameless regional newspapers will also pay the price.

Unfortunately, attempts to restrict freedom of expression and curtail investigative journalism are continuing.

As for 2013 predictions? Well, I think, or at least hope, there will be agreement for tough, but non-statutory Press regulation. Print circulations will continue to decline, but newspaper digital editions should continue to grow.

The Belfast Telegraph Readers' Editor service is, I believe, unique in Ireland and one of a very few in the British Isles.

My wish for 2013 is that readers will continue to use the service, both to hold the paper to account and to provide praise where we excel.

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