Vaccines - A national effort in the national interest: Letter from the Editor

A letter from the Editor of The Yorkshire Post, James Mitchinson, to our readers.

Dear reader.

Something happened in the pursuit of a story this week that I want you to know about. I think it is important that you see the lengths we go to on your behalf.

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Yesterday this newspaper published a story detailing plans to significantly reduce Covid-19 vaccine supplies to the region, in some areas by half. In short, the decision - it seems - has been taken in order to allow those regions lagging behind ours in the roll-out of the vaccines to catch up.

"We owe NHS workers and volunteers a debt we can never hope to repay."

The story was the culmination of over 10 hours’ research, reading, questions and conversations undertaken by our reporter, Robyn Vinter. In her determination to establish the facts of the matter on behalf of those individuals and families who sit anxiously waiting for the inoculation that could well save their lives, Robyn asked questions of: clinical commissioning groups, local authorities, several MPs (on all sides), the Department of Health and NHS England. We also had it on good authority from some of the most senior executives in local government that our story is absolutely correct.

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Scroll forwards just a few hours and Dr Nikita Kanani, Director of Primary Care for NHS England confirmed in an interview to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that, in actual fact, Robyn’s journalism was as accurate as it was thorough. The Yorkshire Post was vindicated.

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. In the eye of that storm I was left feeling intimidated and stressed. 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 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.

But, then, that was the intention, wasn’t it? Knowing now, thanks to the honesty of Dr Kanani, what we do - namely that the journalism was sound - what other explanation can there be?

Let me be clear, and I have written to Mr Zahawi to say as much: I - we - see the sacrifice and the compassion and the skill and the commitment of those on the front line of the pandemic.

We owe NHS workers and volunteers a debt we can never hope to repay. I also see the grieving of those who have lost loved ones. I am one of those people. But we cannot win the war against coronavirus if we do not trust one another. This is a national effort, in the national interest.

Yesterday’s story was never about politics; it is about matters of fact. Now, thanks to a small cabal of our own MPs, it has become a story about the essence of a free Press and the forces around it that wish to do it harm. Those in power would do well to spend less time intimidating local newspapers, dodging simple questions and attacking journalists - like myself - and focus on saving lives. They can best do that by being honest with us and by working with us.

That is surely not too much to ask?

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