SNP newspaper banned from attending Premier’s press conference
By Democrat reporter
MPs, journalists and trade unions rallied behind The National yesterday, after No 10 banned their reporters from a press conference with the Prime Minister.
When the paper asked to go along, the press office at Downing Street told them no, saying “limited capacity” meant they were unable to extend an invite.
The paper has frequently taken part in press events with the Prime Minister and other senior Tories.
Just two weeks ago, they were the only national Scottish newspaper denied a chance to question May’s de-facto deputy David Lidington during his visit to Glasgow.
John Toner, the National Union of Journalists National Organiser for Scotland, called for answers from No 10. He said it was vital in a democracy that newspapers were “given access to those in power”.
Toner said the union supported “the calls of The National for a proper explanation as to why they were excluded.”
Toner and the Society of Editors were recently asked to intervene in a row between the digital newspaper The Dumbarton Democrat and West Dunbartonshire Council.
The Council’s communications department refuses point blank to answer questions from Democrat editor Bill Heaney, although they did a U-turn on their decision, taken by communications manager, Amanda Graham, pictured right, to strike him off their mailing list for media releases.
The Council claim that a digital newspaper is not a real newspaper and refuse to follow custom and practice in local government and the way they deal with Heaney.
This escalated into a row when Heaney raised the matter with Provost William Hendrie during a break in proceedings at a meeting of the full council in the new Burgh Hall in Dumbarton.
Graham told Heaney this was “inappropriate” and left the room after Heaney told her to “bugger off”, an intemperate remark for which he later apologised.
He later also apologised to the Provost if he felt uncomfortable but added that the matters that he had raised with him were relevant and should be dealt with by council members and not the officers.
The ban was anti-democratic and unfair and discriminated against Heaney but not other journalists from other newspapers who covered council matters.
Graham says she wants every media organisation covering West Dunbartonshire to register with IPSO, the post-Leveson Inquiry substitute for the Press Council.
Heaney, a life member of the NUJ and Editor Emeritus of the Society of Editors, said: “This is ridiculous since not every newspaper is a member of IPSO. It seems she wants to have someone to complain to if ever the newspaper steps out of line in their eyes. There is no obligation in law or anything else for me to join IPSO.
“The SNP party and council administration decided to ban and boycott The Democrat without any explanation, although council leader Jonathan McColl told me yesterday that they simply did not like what I write.
“It is hypocritical of them to criticise the Conservatives for doing exactly the same as they are doing themselves.”
Meanwhile, on the issue of the ban on journalists from The National by the Tory Press Office, LibDem MP Christine Jardine, who is herself a former journalist with the Clydebank Post and BBC Scotland, described the decision as “incompetent”.
She compared it to both Donald Trump revoking the White House credentials of CNN’s Jim Acosta, and Alex Salmond’s decision to ban journalists from The Telegraph, the Daily Mail and Daily Express from his resignation press conference after the 2014 referendum on independence.
Jardine said: “We all know that there are times when events have to be ‘pooled’, but that’s not the case here and for the PM’s team to leave themselves open to this sort of criticism is incompetent.
“Surely when the country is facing the most important decision for generations the Government should want to ensure not only the widest and best coverage, but not allow anything to distract from the issue.
“Brexit is going to have a disastrous effect on the UK’s economy. There is no use in Theresa May defending her deal to an audience of her own picking.
“Just like it’s not worth her holding a debate on the deal if she isn’t going to allow the Liberal Democrats to present the case for a people’s vote and a chance to exit from Brexit.
“This allows the claim that journalists are being excluded, a tactic previously deployed by Trump and Alex Salmond. That is not acceptable.”
Scottish Brexit minister Michael Russell called it “an utter disgrace”.
The National’s editor, Callum Baird hit out at the Prime Minister. He said it was “outrageous that Theresa May can’t bring herself to talk to Scotland’s only pro-independence newspaper.”
“The fact that our very well informed readers won’t believe a thing she says is beside the point,” he added.
The SNP MSP George Adam accused May of “running feart.”
He said: “As is par-for-the-course on her day trips to Scotland, she’s hiding from the public and dodging questions from the press – only speaking to a hand-picked audience.”
Daily Mail columnist Stephen Daisley tweeted: “If No. 10 is deliberately excluding @ScotNational from press events, that is unacceptable. You don’t get to shut out a paper just because you don’t like its editorial line. I would expect @ScotTories to make this clear to their Downing St colleagues.”
No 10 did not respond to requests for a comment and nor did West Dunbartonshire Council who refuse to respond to questions from The Democrat.”