Downing Street’s move confirms the Society’s recent fears that moving the lobby briefings to Downing Street would allow the government to pick and choose which news outlets receive information.
According to Daily Mirror Political Editor, Pippa Crerar, around 12 journalists from selected outlets such as the FT, The Sun and Telegraph had received an official invitation to attend a briefing with David Frost, European advisor, to discuss the Prime Minister’s trade plans post-Brexit.
On arrival, those who were not on the official invite list were forced to stand on the opposite side of the foyer. Reportedly, Downing Street’s head of communications Lee Cain told journalists: “Those who are invited to the briefing can stay, everyone else I'm afraid will have to leave.” In response to the lobby journalists’ outrage, he added, “we’re welcome to brief whoever we like”.
Journalists, both invited and barred, then staged a walkout from the briefing in protest. Those involved in the walkout included reporters such as the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg and Sky News’ Beth Rigby.
Ian Murray, Executive Director of the Society of Editors, said: “Just three weeks ago, the Society of Editors sent an open letter signed by all national newspaper editors to Downing Street calling for No 10 to safeguard press freedom with assurances that no news organisation or journalist would be barred from entering Downing Street under the new arrangements for the lobby briefings. We did not receive a formal reply from No 10.
“Yesterday’s events confirm the Society’s concerns for press freedom are very real. As a direct result of this change to the lobby system, reporters from the Mirror, i, Politics Home and HuffPost – amongst others – had been barred entry from the briefing.
“The Society of Editors commends the collective action of lobby journalists to walk out of the briefing and all eyes are on No 10 to make a swift turnaround of their decision. Yesterday’s actions are very much at odds with the pledges made for freedom of expression by the Prime Minister in his Queen’s speech in December.”
This is the latest in a run of problematic media encounters by the new administration, says the Society. On Thursday of last week, the SoE expressed concern at No 10 bypassing mainstream media broadcasters to use the Prime Minister’s personal videographer for his Brexit Day address.