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Regional editor faces down Tories in election row

A regional daily editor resisted pressure from Tory high command to change a splash about possible spending cuts on his patch.

The Northern Echo found itself at the heart of an election controversy after a front-page story highlighting the potential impact of a Tory victory on the North-East.

The splash, headlined “North-East faces the big squeeze,” followed comments by Tory leader David Cameron in an interview with the BBC’s Jeremy Paxman in which he appeared to suggest that the region received too much public money.

Asked by Paxman to name areas of the country which had an “unsustainable” level of public spending, Mr Cameron identified the North-East along with Northern Ireland.

The Echo’s front page was shown at the end of Newsnight in its round-up of the following day’s papers, which normally features only national titles.

However within minutes, the paper was rung up by a high-ranking Conservative official saying the story was unfair and asking for it to be changed.

Echo editor Peter Barron wrote on his blog: “Having watched the programme, I took the decision to go ahead with the front page unaltered – I felt the interpretation was fair.

“Given that the Tories have made a campaign virtue of the need for tough action in tackling the deficit, The Northern Echo’s interpretation of that answer was that this region would be a particular target for public sector cuts.”

Speaking later during a visit to the marginal Stockton South constituency, Mr Cameron argued that he had been misinterpreted and that his aim was to rebalance the region’s economy by expanding the private sector so it wasn’t so reliant on the public sector.

It allowed the paper to carry a follow-up splash headlined “Cameron moves to reassure the North.”

Said Peter: “Hopefully, the Tories now feel they have had a fair crack of the whip from The Northern Echo.

“Mr Cameron’s mantra has been that the public finance deficit needs to be tackled quickly – and that inevitably means public sector cuts. By naming the North-East as a region where public sector is unsustainable, he opened a can of worms.

“We gave him credit on Saturday for giving an honest answer – but the Tories can’t have it both ways. They can’t want to be seen to be tough in tackling the deficit and then complain when the detail is underlined.”

Echo political editor Chris Lloyd was later interviewed about the episode for Radio 5 Live.


davy gravy (29/04/2010 16:23:02)
Shame Allan Geere couldn;t manage the same level of chutzpah with the BNP in Brentwood

Confused (04/05/2010 10:21:17)
Am I missing something here. “editor makes decision then has to field miffed phone call” Isn’t that something that happens pretty much every day? More ego feeding than story methinks.