The editor of the Yorkshire Post has hit out at MPs for pursuing what he called a “co-ordinated attack” on the paper as the row over a story it ran escalated over the weekend.
HTFP reported on Friday how Conservatives including Nadhim Zahawi, the Minister for Covid Vaccine Deployment, had criticised the Leeds-based daily after it revealed supplies of the coronavirus vaccine could be diverted from its patch to regions that have failed to vaccinate as many people.
The attacks mounted over the weekend with Nigel Adams, Minister of State at Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, contining to insist the story is “untrue”, while fellow Tory MP Simon Clarke calling on James to “adjust the tone of his paper’s coverage.”
Dr Nikki Kanani, NHS England’s medical director of primary care, confirmed on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday morning that the diversion of vaccines was taking place, although an NHS spokesperson later told BBC Leeds it was “not true” that vaccine supplies were being diverted “from north to south”.
Despite this insistence, the NHS and the Department for Health have refused to reveal which regions the supplies will be diverted to.
The Post had run the headline ‘Yorkshire ‘punished’ for Covid vaccine success as supplies diverted down south’ when it broke the story online on Thursday evening, but went with ‘Virus jabs to be diverted to other regions’ in print the following morning.
The Government had not denied that it plans to reduce the number of doses being sent to Yorkshire in a statement sent to both the Post and HTFP.
In his editorial, James said: “Never in my career as a journalist have I come under such a co-ordinated attack from those in power.
“I remain perplexed and worried that people entrusted to do the right thing by their constituents would take a leaf out of Donald Trump’s Fake News playbook and use it in anger right here in Yorkshire to belittle the county’s newspaper of record. But that is what happened.
“Those MPs – people you have put your trust and faith in – wanted you to believe our story was ‘untrue, dangerous and wrong’. It was, of course, none of those things, but they wanted you to believe them, not us.
“The experience has left me with a deep sense of unease. One that has compelled me to share the experience with you.”
“Think about it: during the course of those few hours on Thursday evening, a story published in the public interest was subjected to a co-ordinated discrediting campaign from people who, above all else, should act in the public interest.
James said the experience had left him feeling “intimidated and stressed”.
He added: “I became anxious and began to doubt myself and worry about the consequences.
“I would be lying if I said I didn’t consider whether or not I should publish the story – not because of any misgivings about the quality of [Post reporter] Robyn Vinter’s journalism but because of the state of mind induced in me by the barrage of objections coming from Conservative MPs.
“It was utterly disorienting and ravaged me with self-doubt.”
A Government spokesperson told HTFP “In the coming week millions of doses of the vaccines will be delivered and we remain on track to offer first vaccinations to the top four priority groups by mid-February.
“As we’ve said, supply is the limiting factor and as the public would expect we’re prioritising those most at risk from this disease across the country.
“Our approach so far has ensured we’ve vaccinated more people than every country in Europe combined.”