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Editor slams lack of right of reply over regional daily racism claims

James Mitchinson 2An editor whose newspaper was accused of being “the voice of the racist” and blamed for a cricketer and his family having to flee the country has hit back over the lack of opportunity he has been given to publicly deny the claims.

Yorkshire Post editor James Mitchinson has criticised the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, after it heard accusations about the Leeds-based daily in evidence given to MPs by former Yorkshire County Cricket Club player Azeem Rafiq and journalist George Dobell.

In appearances before Committee on Tuesday, which were covered by Parliamentary privilege, both Mr Rafiq and George blamed the newspaper for the abuse that led to the cricketer’s decision to move his family to Pakistan.

James, pictured, has rejected the claims, which the Post reported on its front page yesterday, and has now further spoken out on the issue in a Twitter thread yesterday evening.

He wrote: “I was branded an ‘utter disgrace’ by someone who has forgone their journalistic credibility to become one man’s cheerleading publicist, simply for telling other victims’ versions of this sorry story. Parliament didn’t offer me a right to reply. Why?

“Think about this: this year was my 20th year in local journalism. I’ve fought for fairness, equality of opportunity.

“I’ve battled to keep children’s hospitals open, community centres, hospices. But at a stroke, the system can kill you. Parliament. MPs. Lazily, and easily. How?

“How did this happen to me? Someone who only ever tried to do the right thing?”

James went on to reveal the issue had also led him to question whether he should leave his role.

He added: “My wife thinks I should quit and walk away – how can someone have you recorded for all of time a racist? – she asks. “I dunno, mate. I say. Then we discuss if any of it is worth it.”

Post cricket correspondent Chris Waters has also issued a lengthy rebuttal to allegations made about him personally in  Parliament.

He was described by George, chief reporter at cricket magazine The Cricketer and a former Birmingham Post journalist, as being “out of his depth” during the DCMS hearing, while Mr Rafiq claimed he had been “fed lies” by sources connected with Yorkshire CCC.

In an editorial responding to the allegations, Chris wrote: “I have covered Yorkshire for almost 20 years and know the club and characters as much as anyone; I haven’t just walked in out of the shallow end.

“I don’t want racism. I don’t want people being forced to leave the country. I don’t want threats made against them or their families.

“I don’t want people defecating in their gardens. I don’t want people circling their houses with what look like chains in their hands. I don’t want any of those things.

“But what I do want is to try to do the job of a journalist; I cannot be a cheerleader. I must examine all aspects of a story; Rafiq’s allegations, by the way, and despite claims to the contrary, have been extensively covered in this newspaper, while we have been in regular touch with his PR team.”

Chris went on to highlight how the Post had “given voice to the other voiceless in this wretched business” when it covered how Yorkshire had sacked 16 members of staff after they jointly wrote a letter to the Yorkshire board disputing Mr Rafiq’s claims.

The action prompted him to call for the resignation of Yorkshire County Cricket Club chairman Lord Kamlesh Patel, which led to some Twitter users accusing Chris of being “racist”, “vile” and “going after a brown man”.

In a subsequent column defending himself, Chris criticised what he termed “woke anti-racists” who had abused him.

In his piece yesterday, he went on to describe Tuesday’s DCMS hearing as a “show trial with bells on”.

He wrote: “Anyone tuning in might have thought it was a hearing into regional newspaper journalism as opposed to racism in cricket, given that the main focus seemed to be our/my coverage.”

“The DCMS [committee] seemed to be more concerned with trying to hurt the Yorkshire Post – perhaps smarting from more than one occasion when our fearless journalism has held the powerful in Westminster to account – than to eliminate racism.

“Ditto Rafiq, who in turning his guns on the Yorkshire Post betrayed his own modus operandi, which, on yesterday’s evidence at least, is to attack anyone and everyone who dares to offer other victims in this sorry story the opportunity to have their say.

“Quite what good any of this is doing in terms of eliminating racism, incidentally, making cricket more inclusive and repairing the destroyed institution of Yorkshire CCC is unclear.”

A representative for Mr Rafiq declined to comment when approached by HTFP, while George has also been asked for a response.