Why did journalists walk out of a Downing Street briefing?
Political reporters boycott media event after selected journalists are restricted
Political journalists boycotted a briefing at 10 Downing Street yesterday, after the prime minister’s most senior communications adviser attempted to restrict selected reporters from attending.
The boycott happened after No.10 invited political journalists to a “technical briefing” on Boris Johnson’s plans for a trade deal with the EU, according to HuffPost.
The walkout followed a confrontation inside Downing Street in which the prime minister’s director of communications, Lee Cain, tried to block reporters from joining a briefing.
The reporters in question were from the Daily Mirror, The i, HuffPost, PoliticsHome, The Independent and others.
Among those who walked out in protest were the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg, ITV’s political editor Robert Peston and political reporters from the Daily Mail, Sky News, The Daily Telegraph, The Sun, Financial Times and The Guardian.
According to Daily Mirror political editor Pippa Crerar, journalists on the invited list were requested to stand on one side of a rug in the foyer of No 10, while those not allowed in were asked by security to stand on the other side.
Asked to explain the decision to exclude some publications, Cain reportedly said: “We're welcome to brief whoever we like.”
HuffPost executive politics editor Paul Waugh reports that Cain then “lost his temper as the entire group said that they were walking out as one and would not agree to a briefing on such divisive terms”.
Waugh later tweeted:
A senior No.10 source has disputed that version of events, telling Buzzfeed senior political correspondent Alex Wickham that there was a normal briefing for all lobby journalists and that the later one was a “smaller, selected briefing for specialist senior journalists”.
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The Independent reports that it is “not uncommon for politicians and their political special advisers to brief particular publications or journalists about their plans”.
However, the paper adds, it has “long been the convention” that briefings from civil servants - who are politically neutral - are done with “publications of all shades of opinion represented to ensure that readers and viewers are kept informed”.
The Guardian notes the Downing Street tactics “mirror those of Donald Trump in the US, who has been known to try to exclude journalists from reporting on his activities”. The paper describes the move as an “escalation of Johnson’s tensions with the media”.
Over the weekend it was reported that Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s senior adviser, has a “network of spies” to check whether other special advisers are fraternising with the media. According to The Sunday Times, Cummings has banned ministerial aides from lunching with political journalists.
Last Friday, Cummings himself clashed with an ITV reporter while walking around Westminster.