How newspaper’s campaigning spirit made a difference

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From council corruption to pressing environmental issues, as the Yorkshire Post celebrates its 260th anniversary, Grace Hammond looks back on its campaigning history.

It was back in the early 1970s that The Yorkshire Post started to set out its stall as a campaigning newspaper.

Long before environmental issues had been embraced by the mainstream Press, reporter Geoffrey Lean was investigating the state of Yorkshire’s rivers which had been badly blighted by the county’s industrial past.

The polluted rivers campaign won several awards and the green agenda was brought closer to home in 1977 when Roger Ratcliffe, still a regular contributor to the paper, launched an investigation into the health impact of lead additives in petrol. It revealed Government figures had vastly underestimated the effect of traffic fumes, with people breathing in three times as much lead than previously thought. The campaign which followed was instrumental in changing both official policy and public attitudes and it was just the start.

Stolen children

In 1992, Emma Hallam was collected by her father Martin for what was supposed to be a camping holiday. Instead he took her out of the country, leaving her mother Michelle to launch an international search. The abduction became the focus of a campaign to protect the 1,200 victims of parental abduction each year. Reporters travelled to America and Canada in search of the truth and, following a painstaking investigation, Emma was finally traced to Florida where an American judge reunited her with her mother.

Vanishing Wilderness

The Yorkshire Post was the first newspaper to back a campaign to save the region’s remaining peatlands. With experts predicting they could disappear within decades if urgent action was not taken, we proposed an agenda for action, which included halting peat mining at both Thorne and Hatfield Moors. In March 1992, the three main political parities pledged to support step one of the campaign’s agenda for action.

Donnygate

A long-running exposure into corruption at the heart of Doncaster Council began in January 1997. It was sparked by a report by the District Auditor which highlighted abuses of foreign trips, expenses, hospitality and free gifts. But there was more to it than that. Thanks to a number of anonymous council insiders and hours spent searching through planning applications and official records, the paper revealed local government corruption and fraudulent land deals dating back to at least 1992. By March 2004 when a former council official and three builders admitted corruption, it brought the final number of people convicted during the Donnygate scandal to 35.

Clearly British

A loophole in the law meant foreign meat could be labelled as British if it had been processed in this country. The Clearly British campaign, launched in 2007, called for unambiguous labelling. Having won the support of David Cameron, in 2010 the UK’s main supermarkets announced they were signing up to a new voluntary code of conduct which would make the origin of meat more explicit.

Loneliness – The Hidden Epidemic

The campaign was launched at the start of this year with two main aims – for loneliness to be recognised as a health priority and to encourage readers to volunteer for support services. Calderdale has since set aside £1m for voluntary and community groups working on loneliness and a similar amount has been invested in North Yorkshire. In May, the campaign won the Newspaper Society’s Making a Difference award, which recognises what local newspapers can do for their communities.

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