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Minister in row over paper's stance

The Western Morning News has come under attack from animal health minister Elliot Morley.

He focused on the paper’s criticism of John Prescott’s claims that Labour had regenerated the Cornish economy.

And he also took his chance to take a stab at the Morning News’ reporting of the foot and mouth crisis and the “politically motivated rants” of its editorials.

In a highly-charged 1,200-word letter to the paper he said it was time the WMN took “a more grown-up approach to serious issues rather than abusing anyone who dares to disagree with the paper’s prejudices”.

Editor Barrie Williams in turn fired off a 1,400-word salvo to answer Mr Morley’s comments, and ask why the ministers won’t take their share of the blame.

Elliot Morley said: “Good regional papers do raise serious subjects; are entitled to question policy, and the WMN has first-class journalists on its staff. All the greater shame that the paper’s influence and credibility is undermined by the politically-motivated rants of its editorial.

“The sad thing for the region is that the paper’s attitude is so predictable it can hardly expect to be taken seriously by the Government or by key decision-makers.”

He used his letter – which took up almost a full page of the paper – to explain some of the issues and actions surrounding the foot and mouth epidemic, which badly affected the south-west region covered by the Morning News.

He talked about the Government’s policy, its powers and actions, as well as the attitude of the media.

Barrie Williams, in his reply, also published in the paper, claimed readers in rural areas had been shamefully treated by the Government, but well-served by his paper.

He said: “Mr Elliot Morley obviously thinks that his admonition thundered out from afar in London will damage our credibility in the eyes of our readers down here in the Westcountry.

“We know and they know that he could not be more mistaken in that intent.

“Our attack on John Prescott was entirely justified.

“It is as shallow and lazy as it is demonstrably untrue to describe, as Mr Morley does, the WMN’s editorials as “politically motivated rants”.

“People who know this newspaper and its editor know, too, that none of our comments is politically-motivated. Is he saying that I am a Tory? Just ask the Tories!

“Instead of trying to score cheap points against the WMN Mr Morley and his colleagues should be asking themselves… why I feel so passionately angry about what they are doing to the countryside and its predominantly decent, hardworking people.”

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