The mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, is calling on the national media “to go back to where it is strongest” and to embrace local and regional titles which “embody the best of journalism.”
In a debate on public trust in the media at the Society of Editors’ conference in Manchester, Burnham, who was only elected into the role seventeen days after the Manchester Arena attack in May 2017 in which 22 people died, praised journalists who “live in the communities they are reporting on.”
Following the attack, the media was scrutinised by the Kerslake Report which described some journalists’ behaviour as “intrusive and overbearing.”
Burnham urged change in the way the media works “particularly at national level.”
“I really don’t want the mainstream media to play to the excesses of social media,” he said. “The best way is for the mainstream media is to say we don’t do that and it provides that public service again.
“I think social media is polarising society. We have all got to step back now and unify people rather than playing to divisions.
He added: “Also there’s a sense of standards. The bit that troubled me was when the New York Times published pictures of the arena itself. “The BBC anniversary documentary showed images of the floor and the victims on the floor – even though we asked them not to.”
“Everyone has to have a sense of where is the line?”
Ian Hopkins, chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, said: “For me, it is the lack of balance that has really undermined that accountability. I want to be held to account, but it just feels the media has become sensationalised
“In terms of the arena attack, it was a hugely challenging time in many ways the MEN and local reporting was constructive and considered.
“These people are suffering tremendous grief and to the media what’s your duty of care? It’s a tricky balance as many of those families are grieving today.”
He said some people wanted to speak to the media but others didn’t. He said: “On the whole, we had tremendous support getting the messages out. We saw a city not only grieving, but it was very scared.”
Hopkins said two of the families who lost their children made official complaints about the BBC anniversary documentary on the bombing showing their dying children on the arena floor “which were both upheld” – even though their faces were pixallated out.
He criticised the media for “not knowing about or reporting” the outcome of the complaints.
Darren Thwaites, editor-in-chief at the Manchester Evening News, said the decisions of its reporters and editors “were based on good ethics and the Editors’ Code of Conduct. Within 24 hours, £1m had been raised for the victims and families.”
He said they did “responsible journalism to ensure the city’s not divided. Marking the anniversary was really sensitive and well-handled. We behaved responsibly with a great set of standards with teams of journalists who want to tell the truth.”
“Clearly, the Kerslake Report was not great for the media, in general, but journalism is there overwhelmingly for the good.”
He said: “they got feedback from the parents saying they didn’t want to see the picture of Salman Abedi next to pictures of their loved ones” and they had respected that.”
Bénédicte Paviot, President of the Foreign Press Association said: “My reading was there was equal blame apportioned to the national British press and the international.
“In my career, I have covered far too many terrorist attacks. Anybody who does that sort of reporting is to be deplored.
“We are definitely at the turning point of our profession. I have never witnessed so much anger and licence to insult or attack a journalist, whether it was the first night of Grenfell Tower or College Green -which seems to be the place to occasionally verbally abuse us, or more.”
“When Tommy Robinson says ‘you are the enemies of the people’ it’s completely irresponsible language.”