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05 February 2020

Culture Secretary Calls For End To No 10 Feud With Media

Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan has called for officials to sit down with the lobby to “work out” media access issues after political editors walked out of Number 10 Downing Street in protest at handpicking of journalists for a Government briefing.  

The News Media Association has lent its support to the lobby by urging officials  to consult with the lobby on changes to briefings which could weaken media access to Government and damage public confidence in the administration. 

Earlier this week, the lobby walked out of Number 10 Downing Street after some lobby journalists were told they could not attend a Government briefing on the European Union, prompting a backlash from politicians and the industry

Delivering a speech at Policy Exchange on the future of UK media and broadcasting, Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan called for Number 10 officials to sit down with the lobby and “work out” the issues.

She said: “At the end of the day I don’t think it serves anybody for this as a debate to be continuing and I hope very much that actually the best thing would be for the co-chairs of the press lobby here in Westminster to sit down with the director of communications and to work this out.

“Because as I say actually, I think although the media - we all like talking about ourselves, as do politicians like talking about politics and politicians - actually what’s needed is communicating clearly to the public about the tricky issues that this Government obviously is dealing with.”  

In a Commons debate following an urgent question on arrangements for lobby media briefings by Labour DCMS spokesperson Tracy Brabin, MPs from all the main parties attacked the Government for failing to uphold the principles of freedom of the press.

Daisy Cooper, Lib Dem, said: “It is quite extraordinary that the Government say that there is effectively nothing to see here, when the News Media Association and the National Union of Journalists have both said that this potentially represents a threat to the freedom of the press, and both have asked for the Government to consult them on the changes.”

Sir Peter Bottomley, Conservative, said: “It would be sensible for the Government to consider talking to the senior political editors who walked out, to see whether there is a way of getting over this problem and resolving it.”

Pete Wishart, SNP, said:   “Just how sinister can it get? The names of journalists were read out and groups assembled on either side of a rug before it was announced who would have access and who would be excluded.

“No Scottish media outlets were even told about the briefing. I congratulate all the journalists involved yesterday for showing solidarity with their colleagues and refusing to participate in that circus.”

Jo Stevens, Labour, said: “Mr Speaker: ‘Attacks on media freedom are attacks on human rights…Too often, it is governments who are the source of threats to media freedom. Governments—which are responsible for protecting human rights—instead are the ones to violate them.’

“Those are not my words, but words taken directly from the global pledge on media freedom that was signed last July by the then Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for South West Surrey (Jeremy Hunt). The Minister clearly does not understand what media freedom means; does she understand what hypocrisy means?”

Bim Afolami, Conservative, said: Will the Minister confirm two things for the House—first, that the Government will of course look at making sure that briefings are done in a sensible way, with the agreement of all members of the lobby over the longer term; and secondly, that this Government and, indeed, this House should always be committed to there being no political interference in our media, because that is a foundation of our democracy?

Dehenna Davison, Conservative, said: “While the Labour party, true to form these days it seems, is obsessing about the London bubble, will my hon. Friend confirm that the Treasury is looking at how best it can support the media across the country?

“What impact does she believe that the recently announced business rates relief for local newspaper offices will have, particularly on great Bishop Auckland organisations, such as the Teesdale Mercury and The Northern Echo?”

Alison Thewliss, SNP, said: “The Scotsman journalist Paris Gourtsoyannis tweeted that Downing Street did not tell Scottish or regional journalists about the briefing. Can the Minister tell me why she does not value Scottish media? Does she agree that is difficult to report outside the Westminster bubble if the Government do not invite Scottish journalists?”