Television and radio documentaries commemorating the 40th anniversary of the 1984-85 miners’ strike have been welcomed for providing a much-needed correction to the news media’s original portrayal of the dispute.

“At last people are seeing the strike from a different perspective” says former South Wales miners Ron Stoate.

His praise for a series of newly commissioned documentaries drew wide support at a conference in Cardiff held by the Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research and Data.

Broadcasters have offered the surviving strikers what was in effect a right of reply and in the process have delivered what miners and their families believe is a far more accurate account of a defining year in British industrial relations.

Journalists who covered the strike were not needed: they were forced to take a back seat because the programme producers were determined to hand over the airwaves to the strikers, their families, and others directly involved.

Flashing back and forth between past and present, seeing and hearing archive footage of young miners in their twenties and thirties, and then listening to them again in their sixties and seventies as they relived their experiences provided gripping footage.

In many ways this was their right of reply – a chance to tell their story without it being structured, framed, or narrated by the news media, and especially by the broadcasters whom so many of them despised.

The opening of the BBC Two documentary, A Frontline Story, explained why veteran BBC correspondents were excluded. The first interviewee, former South Yorkshire miner and striker Dave Roper had, as he explained, been reluctant to appear:

“My history with the media, especially the BBC, is they tend to twist what we say…it’s all about what they want, not what I want to put across.”

His contempt for the way the strike had been reported 40 years ago found an echo at the WISERD conference when Ron Stoate, vice chairman of the NUM lodge at the Penallta colliery in the Rhymney Valley, gave a first-hand account of how the strikers had been the victims of one-sided reporting.

“We didn’t have a platform. There was no balance in the reporting.

“Forty years on, as a result of these recent programmes on Channel 4 and the BBC, people are seeing the strike from a different perspective.

“It is too late for us, but I would like to think it’s not too late for everyone else in the trade union movement.”

Credit for the impact achieved by these programmes is a well-deserved accolade for the work of independent production companies who were commissioned by the BBC, Channel 4, and other channels.

Cutbacks in production and staffing have been accompanied by a significant shift in editorial direction and input. Increasingly programmes like the miners’ documentaries are no longer being made in house by established teams of journalists and producers but have now been outsourced.

Independent companies have brought a fresh eye to what happened in the pit dispute and a different style of presentation.

Swan Films, which produced the three Channel 4 documentaries, was adamant they didn’t want any talking heads such as veteran journalists and insisted this was the strikers’ chance to recall events through their eyes.

They provided their own story line interspersed with short excerpts of archive footage from news bulletins, but the narrative was theirs, not one crafted by a correspondent or led by a presenter.

As a BBC journalist from the past, having reported the 1984-85 strike for BBC Radio, I do have some doubts as to whether these actuality-led documentaries provide sufficient context.

Brief captions which disappear before they can be read or properly absorbed are, in my opinion, no substitute for a well-crafted script, delivered perhaps by an authoritative journalist or presenter who guides the viewer and listener through the storyline.

Nonetheless these 40th anniversary documentaries and programmes – and there are more to come – are an eye opener, re-awakening interest and addressing without fear or favour nagging issues about how the strike was reported at the time and without the editorialising which caused such offence.

Nothing can excuse the police brutality. The testimony of battered and bloodied pickets – and their recollections 40 years later of how they survived the strike survivors – will stand the test of time.

Indeed, this output has been so powerful tv reviewers and other commentators are already wondering if, as the anniversary year progresses, there could be the same kind of momentum that ITV created with Mr Bates vs the Post Office and that it does provide some answers to so many of the troubling questions regarding a dispute became a turning point in British industrial relations.

Jones v Scargill at NUM news conference

Channel 4’s documentary on the Battle of Orgreave featured footage filmed by a NUM crew. Two union officials had been supplied with video cameras. Their first shoot was at a post-executive news briefing when the cameras were turned on the media pack.

Nicholas Jones, then industrial correspondent for BBC radio, asked: “I know it’s 1984 Mr Scargill but isn’t it going a bit too far to be having your own video recording of this news conference?”

Arthur Scargill, NUM President: “I think it’s important for our members to see what kind of circus you put on each time we have a press conference.”