Aisha Iqbal: When did simple reporters like me go from eyes and ears to public enemy?

PRESS PACK: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, surrounded by photographers on the campaign trail in Pudsey.

PRESS PACK: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, surrounded by photographers on the campaign trail in Pudsey.

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Most of the time, I absolutely love my job as a regional political reporter, and I couldn’t imagine ever doing anything else. But this week, I had one of those rare moments of doubt.

It was nothing really, in the wider scheme of things, and I am pretty thick-skinned, as I have to be. But it bothered me and got me thinking.

Reporters get paid to BE the eyes and ears of the public. They are not monkeys who cover those eyes and ears up and see, hear and speak at chosen moments.

I was told, along with other journalistic colleagues covering a particularly tense public political event, to “behave” and not make things worse.

A slightly bizarre request, I thought, as I was part of an invited throng of journalists covering the public event, and neither I or any of the other reporters/photographers had done anything but do just that.

Issues arose when the meeting in question – billed as a Q and A with two parliamentary candidates in Bradford – descended into chaos when it was overly subscribed and some people objected to being locked out of the hall.

It got pretty hairy for a while, with a constant stream of heckling and door-pushing which required security to intervene. It was, essentially, a hijacking of a perfectly legitimate event, which got worse later when one of the participants walked out in a perfectly executed moment of grandstanding.

However most disturbing to me on a professional level was the round of applause that the prematurely chastising comment to reporters from the chair of the meeting had evoked from the gathered crowd.

Myself and other reporters had been photographing and videoing the proceedings. And it was when the tensions started that we were told to behave (after some of the photographers took photos of the troublemakers).

‘Has it really come to this?’, I thought to myself. Reporters get paid to BE the eyes and ears of the public. They are not monkeys who cover those eyes and ears up and see, hear and speak at chosen moments.

Earlier in the week, there were reports of a journalist covering Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s latest election campaign visit to West Yorkshire being booed.

Former Yorkshire Post reporter Jack Blanchard was jeered at Labour’s manifesto launch for asking a question about the popularity of the party leadership.

Mr Corbyn, gracious as ever, was forced to intervene and defend the reporter, telling his supporters “it’s not a cult of personality”.

At another event, a TV journalist was met with boos before Mr Corbyn again intervened from the podium, asking for respect for reporters and admitting he was himself a member of the National Union of Journalists.

This creeping rise of open hostility towards the press is new to me personally, and is something that I have very rarely come across in my 15 year career in local newspapers.

Why should I have? My job, and that of my colleagues, is built on mutual trust with the YEP’s readers.

But is Donald Trump’s mass crusade against the MSM (mainstream media) spilling into our country? It seems so.

Although Mr Corbyn’s brand of populism – and his handling of it – could not be more far removed from Mr Trump’s, the sentiments behind it are similar.

The disconnect that ordinary people have been feeling from politicians has now, to some extent, filtered through to the public’s relationship with the press en masse it seems.

For a small minority of people, we are all – whether national, regional or hyper-local – part of one big evil club in cahoots with the power-brokers, and press is a dirty word.

The irony for me is that all this happened in the same week that the Yorkshire Evening Post launched its Fighting Fake News campaign.

News purists everywhere are feeling the need to reinforce the message that the essential role of independent local newspapers is to campaign on behalf of communities, expose wrongdoing and work to be your eyes and ears, holding our decision-makers to account.

As I said, it’s all about trust.

But somewhere in the modern melee of social media sharing, clickbaiting and fact-ignoring, that sacred trust has been hijacked. That’s something that makes me, as a lifelong lover of truth and social justice and the people we serve, sad.

When people start to believe that neither their elected representatives nor the people tasked to be the public’s ‘eyes and ears’ are trustworthy, then we have a problem.

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