Why a free and impartial press is important
When the battle plans were being drawn up in the fight to preserve the freedom of the press from potential Government regulation, a high-profile advertising campaign was launched to highlight the important issues we would’ve been in the dark about were it not for the work of an unfettered press.
The press lobbying body the Newspaper Society wheeled out the big guns of the national press as you’d expect; The Guardian revealing phone hacking; the Daily Telegraph’s exposure of MPs’ expenses; the daily Mail’s fight for to see Stephen Lawrence’s alleged killers in court.
But up there with them was the Doncaster Free Press, a minnow among these industry giants, but a minnow that regularly punches above its weight in shining a light into the dark places where the REAL stories hide.
This week is Local Newspaper Week and the theme is freedom of the press.
On the face of it, many of you will think ‘ what’s that got to do with me?’
But the work of the local press, week in and week out, is to dig out the stories that do matter to the communities we serve.
We don’t just rely on press releases and the tit-bits sent our way by teams of “communications managers”.
We sit in the court rooms so you can see justice being done. We’re at council meetings making sure that politicians realise that they are accountable to YOU and we are watching what they do on your behalf. We read complex, jargon-filled health documents to discover if our hospitals are meeting the standards we expect.
‘Oh’, you might say, ‘ we can get it all on the council’s website or on twitter’.
But can you? Organisations - and politicians - love social media because they control their own message; what you see is what they want you to see. and of course, more often than not, that isn’t whole story.
The job of our trained journalists with their legal knowledge is to look beyond the spin that is so much a part of our every day lives now.
Our job is to seek out the facts on your behalf and present them in a fair, accurate and balanced way.
Often that brings us into conflict with the powers-that-be - but that’s exactly as it should be.
Without a free press the basic freedoms that we enjoy are vulnerable to abuse by the rich or powerful and those with vested interests. It’s what the “free” in Free Press means.
It’s a responsibility that we take very seriously because we believe that what we do really does matter to our community. Here’s just a taste of what we’ve done in recent years.
What brought us to the Newspaper Society’s attention was uncovering the children’s services’ scandal in Doncaster that involved the deaths of seven children.
You read it first in the Free Press - back in 2009 - and its significance should not be under-estimated.
Four years - and Government intervention - later the story is still rumbling on. That our children were being so badly let down and that cash was being used so ineffectively by a council in chaos would have remained an untold story, had it now been for the Free Press.
We did the ground work for others in the national press to follow.
But this wasn’t the first time the Free Press has received national acclaim for holding those in power to account.
Just two years earlier DFP reporter Deborah Wain, picked up the Paul Foot Award for Investigative Journalism, a award she shared with a two-man team from The Guardian.
The national newspaper had exposed bribery in the British arms trade; Deborah had exposed the collapse - on the quiet - of the £90 million Doncaster Education City, the UK’s most expensive education project.
Deborah’s reporting uncovered cash spent on private number plates, fine entertaining and hiring private aircraft for key figures - all at public expense.
Back in the 90s the newspaper played a crucial role in exposing Donnygate, which saw 21 councillors - two ex mayors and two former council leaders among them - convicted of fraud.
There was expenses fiddling but also corrupt planning deals.
Voters’ fury at the depth Donnygate was the main driver for a change in the way Doncaster was run. We voted to have an elected mayor - a system rejected by most of the rest of the country.
Want the latest local news? Let us provide it for you
The demand for news has never ben greater - and we’re responding to that at the DFP.
We are more than just a newspaper, we are Doncaster’s news service.
We are delivering the news when you want it and in the format you want - in printed form, on your lap-top, on your phone. We’re not just about news either. We’re also your port of call for information, for videos and slideshows.
But however you read our work, you know that you are getting the facts, presented in a balanced way by trained journalists from an independent organisation.
Every month 400,000 people read the Free Press and our website Doncaster Free Press has 85,000 unique users.