Austin Mitchell, the first chair of the NUJ’s cross-party Parliamentary Group, has died aged 86
Seamus Dooley, assistant general secretary led tributes on behalf of the union to the former MP for Great Grimsby.
“We are very sad to learn of the death of Austin Mitchell. He was a true friend of the NUJ, a strong defender of media freedom and a champion of public service broadcasting.
“Austin served as first chair of the NUJ Parliamentary Group in 2003 and brought his enormous knowledge, based on his own experience with BBC and Yorkshire Television. He was an accomplished broadcaster and brought his commitment to transparency into his work as an MP.
“With John McDonnell MP, the first secretary, Austin put in place a structure which has enabled us to keep media freedom, employment rights and standards and the protection of public service broadcasting on the political agenda. He was a strong advocate for the rights of reporters and photographers, and we were appreciative of his support,” he said.
Before entering Parliament, Austin Mitchell had a career in broadcasting with the BBC and Yorkshire TV where he worked from 1969 to 1977 as a reporter and presenter of Calendar, its regional news programme. He was a frequent contributor to The Yorkshire Post.
The NUJ’s Parliamentary Group, a cross-party group of MPs and peers, represents the voice of journalists and media workers in the Houses of Commons and Lords and champions media freedom in the UK and overseas. It was pressure by the group and debates highlighting the crisis in local news that led to the influential Cairncross Review of a sustainable future for journalism.
During one of his last debates in the House of Commons on local newspapers, John McDonnell MP paid tribute saying:
“I want formally to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby for his services to the NUJ in the House. He has championed a free and flourishing media in this country and the critically important role of journalists. I place on the record all our thanks for that.”
Austin Mitchell’s reply was:
“It is a pleasure to stand here as the chair of the NUJ Parliamentary Group, but to crack a Ken Dodd joke, it is a pleasure to be standing anywhere at my age…We want to encourage good journalism and good local journalism and we want to raise standards. We have a situation where a fifth of local government units have no local paper to carry on a critique of the local authority and its activities. That is tragic when we consider that all politics is local politics. Everything is local, in fact. Our roots are local, and we need local discussion and active journalism to keep us on our toes and to provide proper effective scrutiny of local government.”
He supported his local newspaper the Grimsby Telegraph and the Yorkshire Post and called for newspapers to be made community assets and defended the BBC from government raids on the licence fee by saying: “The BBC licence fee must be there to support quality production in this country. That is its purpose and that is what it should be devoted to.”
Keir Starmer, Labour Party leader tweeted:
“I'm saddened by the death of Austin Mitchell who served Great Grimsby with remarkable commitment for 38 years - even changing his surname to Haddock to promote local industry. His sense of humour was matched by his deep Labour values. My thoughts are with his wife and children.”