Cabinet Office asked about journalists' access to lobby briefings

04 February 2020

Shadow Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Minister, Tracy Brabin, asked ministers about the barring of certain journalists from official Government briefings.

Yesterday, journalists staged a walkout at Number 10 when Government officials barred the political editors of certain publications from attending a briefing on future trade deals from the Prime Minister's advisor on Europe.

Those excluded included Press Association news agency, the Mirror and i newspapers, as well as the Huffpost UK, Politics Home and Independent websites. In solidarity, the editors of outlets allowed into the briefing also walked out. 

Tracy Brabin MP asked if the Cabinet Office would make a statement on why this happened.

Chloe Smith MP: "standard practice"

Responding on behalf of the Government, the Parliamentary Secretary for the Cabinet Office, Chloe Smith, told the House that what happened yesterday was a "very good example" of the Government's commitment to the freedom of the press.

Ms Smith stated that the Prime Minister took questions from journalists after his speech, which was followed by a briefing available to all journalists with a parliamentary press gallery pass from his official spokesperson.

She said that the restricted briefing following this, which was the cause of the walkout, was an "additional, technical, specialist" briefing, which she termed "standard practice".

The Member told MPs:

"This Government, Mr Speaker, is committed to being open in its dealings with the press and to the principles of media freedom, and the events of yesterday were a very good example of this."

Tracy Brabin MP: "damages a free and vital press"

Responding on behalf of the Opposition, Shadow DCMS Minister, Tracy Brabin, told the House that the ability of journalists to have "access to briefings without favour" was a "long-standing tradition" that was necessary for a democracy.

Ms Brabin highlighted press reports that it was a special advisor – the Prime Minister's communications director – who refused entry to certain political editors. She quoted the advisor as saying "we're welcome to brief whoever we like, whenever we like" when challenged. The Shadow Minister said that it was against the code for special advisors and civil servants.

The Shadow Minister added that it was "not an isolated incident", and that this had also happened at last week's briefing on Huawei. She asked the Minister to detail the selection criteria for journalists allowed to the briefings and who was responsible for making the decision.

She concluded:

"The Government's behaviour […] brings into question the integrity of future Government/media briefings and the conduct of its special advisors, and damages a free and vibrant press."

Image: Pexels via Pixabay

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