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BBC award for Radio Exe journalist

Joe Ives, centre, with BBC presenters Owain Wyn Evans and Mike Sweeney

Accolade for coverage of Torbay Council

When Torbay Council's Lib Dem leadership got itself into pickle over its policy on accepting Afghan refugees, Radio Exe's local democracy reporter Joe Ives covered the situation in some detail.

That coverage has now won him a prestigious journalism award.

Mr Ives, 27, was just six weeks into his new job, funded by the BBC to cover local councils in Devon, when Torbay's leader Steve Darling told him they wouldn't be providing accommodation for Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban.

Government policy at the time was to assist Afghan nationals who had helped British services in the years since 9-11.

However Cllr Darling argued that the Bay's housing crisis meant it wouldn't be right to provide houses to Afghan migrants. Furthermore, he claimed, Torbay's lack of ethnic diversity would mean the council "potentially setting [the refugees] up to fail."

As a political storm erupted around him, including criticism from his own councillors, Cllr Darling apologised "for comments which have been construed as suggesting that Afghan refugees would not be welcome in Torbay because of their ethnic background"

He continued: "That is not my belief. I am deeply sorry if these comments offended anyone."

This week Joe Ives' coverage was honoured with an award for coverage of local democracy by a reporter in their first year in the job. The inaugural George Makin Award is itself in honour of a distinguished local democracy journalist who died earlier this year.

Mr Ives received his award from Mr Makin's wife and children at an event at the BBC's Media City studios in Salford. 

Joe Ives (right) collecting the George Makin Award from Mr Makin's family

The issue arose in August, shortly after the government called on councils to provide accommodation to Afghan families. Torbay, which in common with many local authorities has a severe housing shortage, said it wouldn't.

Cllr Darling told Joe Ives that while the situation in Afghanistan was mortifying, the council was "having real massive challenges to support our own people let alone Afghan refugees.”

That split opinion. Many people agreed with Cllr Darling, believing local people should be prioritised for housing need. Others felt Torbay should find suitable property in the face of an emerging humanitarian crisis.

The following day, Cllr Darling apologised for his remarks and announced a new policy in which the council would work with local landlords to find accommodation for refugees.

However, he remains angry at the way Joe Ives, Radio Exe and the local democracy reporting service covered the issue. 

In announcing the journalism award, BBC presenter Mike Sweeney said: "Joe's coverage of the story led to criticism of the council, calls for the decision [to refuse council accommodation] to be reconsidered, an apology, and ultimately the provision of homes with the support of private landlords.

"[Awards' judge] Will Gore of the National Council for the Training of Journalists said Joe's report was the result of asking the right people the right questions.

"It was an excellent piece of journalism and shows just why it is so important that local democracy is held to account by local media."

Radio Exe's managing director Paul Nero said: "This was a sensitive issue in the early weeks of Radio Exe taking over the local democracy reporting service in Devon and one that Joe handled sensitively.

"He stood firm in the face of egregious demands from the Lib Dem leadership in Torbay instructing him - and us - to remove articles containing what they claimed were "contradictions and blatant inaccuracies," but which, indeed because of their very accuracy, were causing them political difficulties.

"This award is deserved, but unexpected, recognition of a careful and responsible reporter at the start of what we expect will be an illustrious career.

"It's also testament to the BBC's local democracy reporting service that provides funding for independent journalism outside the Corporation, and why anyone interested in democracy should support our public service broadcasters."


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