A cricketer who spoke out against racism has blamed a regional daily’s coverage of the issue for him and his family having to flee the country.
Azeem Rafiq has hit out at the way the Yorkshire Post has covered allegations of institutional racism at Yorkshire County Cricket Club after MPs heard claims that the newspaper had been “the voice of the racist” since the scandal broke two years ago.
Post editor James Mitchinson says he “absolutely rejects” the allegations by both Mr Rafiq and cricket journalist George Dobell that the Post had “enabled a culture of racism in its reporting of failings” at the club.
It comes after both Mr Rafiq and George, as well as Yorkshire CCC’s current chairman Lord Kamlesh Patel, took aim at the Leeds-based Post in appearances before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee.
HTFP reported in August how Post cricket correspondent Chris Waters had defended the newspaper’s coverage of the scandal, criticising what he called “woke anti-racists” after Twitter users accused him of being “racist”, “vile” and “going after a brown man”.
Chris hit back at his abusers after he wrote a column calling for Lord Patel’s resignation over the sacking of 16 members of the club’s staff, who had disputed a raft of allegations made by Mr Rafiq about racism there.
Last November, James scrapped plans to hold the Post’s annual business awards at Yorkshire CCC’s Headingley Stadium after the club faced widespread criticism over their handling of an investigation into the scandal.
James, who has not so far himself been invited to give evidence to the Committee, insisted the Post had “repeatedly acknowledged” the racism suffered by Mr Rafiq and that the newspaper had been “scrupulously objective, impartial and professional” in its reporting of the story.
Mr Rafiq spoke out after Committee member, Conservative MP Giles Watling asked him about the “attacks” he had received from the Post and whether the paper had been “in touch” with him.
In response, he said: “I think pretty early on the Yorkshire Post, through their correspondent, took a position.
“I actually have some sense of sympathy. He’s known these people for well over two decades and he’s been fed lies, and he’s believed them.
“There have been match reports written on a Yorkshire [County] Championship game with digs at me and I think the wider impact of that, I think George said it as well, is for me the editorial control and the senior editors and the leaders at the Yorkshire Post have a lot to answer for.
Pressed by Mr Watling on whether the Post had “offered you a platform to respond”, Mr Rafiq said: “We’ve had to get in touch with them a couple of months ago because when we went through 300 articles over the best part of two years, a lot were basically attacking me at all opportunities.
“I don’t feel like at any point they’ve had any balance and it’s been disappointing. I spoke out, I knew that I would be targeted, but the way that’s impacted me and my family especially is something the Yorkshire Post should be held responsible for.”
Responding to a further question from Labour’s Clive Efford on media coverage of his case, he added: “A lot of the time through the last 13 months, I’ve been attacked and that has created arguably the sort of hate towards me and my family locally which has led me to leave.
“If I was to pick one reason why all this has happened, unfortunately I’d have to say it was the Yorkshire Post’s writing.”
Earlier in the hearing, George, who is chief reporter at cricket magazine The Cricketer, was asked by Labour MP Kevin Brennan what he made of the Post’s journalism surrounding the case and whether the paper had been “fair in airing both sides of the debate”.
In response, the former Birmingham Post journalist said: “It’s been extremely disappointing. They have been the voice of the racist, they have provided the voice for the racist.
“They have intimidated and bullied Kamlesh. They have intimidated and bullied Azeem.
“And if you ask [Azeem], which I’m sure you will in an hour’s time, he will tell you the number one reason was the Yorkshire Post. The Yorkshire Post had a campaign to discredit and intimidate.
Asked by Mr Brennan why the Post would pursue such a campaign, he added: “I fear that they think they’re catering for their market, and I like to think they’ve got their market wrong – the people of Yorkshire are better than that.
“On a basic level, I feel a little bit sorry for the individual cricket journalist. I’ve been friends with him, he’s actually been very good at his job for a long time.
“I think he’s out of his depth. I think he’s been fed information by people who are more cynical and are much closer involved and understand what’s happening. So they have drip-fed him information and he’s regurgitated it into the paper.
“His editor has to take more responsibility. His editor is the one who’s meant to say ‘well, what’s going on here?'”
In a statement, James said: “I absolutely reject the allegations made by Azeem Rafiq and George Dobell that the Yorkshire Post enabled a culture of racism in its reporting of failings at Yorkshire County Cricket Club.
“The Yorkshire Post has repeatedly acknowledged the racism suffered by Mr Rafiq and we have been scrupulously objective, impartial and professional in our reporting of the story. Our readers would expect no less from us.
“Finally, Mr Rafiq can be assured that the Yorkshire Post remains committed to diligent editing, listening to and telling all sides of the stories we cover with honesty, integrity and impartiality.”