Society of Editors’ concerns over trend towards secrecy and cover-ups

By Democrat reporter

Newspapers collage

The Society of Editors has called on Downing Street to ensure that access to open government is maintained for journalists working at Westminster.

The Society’s actions follow concerns from lobby correspondents working at Westminster who fear that changes to the traditional lobby system will harm coverage of government actions and intentions.

The new year has opened with the sudden introduction of a change to the lobby correspondent system which requires lobbyists representing both regional and national newspapers as well as broadcast media to attend lobby meetings at Number 9 Downing Street instead of the Houses of Parliament. Some lobby correspondents and their editors fear the changes will be to the detriment of political coverage and make it far more difficult for journalists to scrutinise the actions of the newly formed administration.

“While the Society of Editors is certainly not against changes to the way in which journalists are given access to the heart of government, such changes should only come about following consultation with those working at the sharp end of our lobby system,” said Society of Editors executive director Ian Murray.

“We understand there are real concerns over access to the new lobby venue at 9 Downing Street, restrictions on use of mobile phones, and indeed whether this could lead to restrictions on who will be allowed to attend these vital meetings.

“The government underscored its commitment to freedom of expression in the recent Queen’s speech and we would take this to mean a commitment to open government. There is still time for Number 10 to consult further with the lobby correspondents’ committee and its members to ensure a sensible new system can be put in place.”

Bill Heaney, Editor of The Democrat, said: “This is yet another step towards closing access to information and denying the media freedom of expression. We have to be more vigilant about this and complain whenever the guidelines are breached. Write to your MP about it. We ourselves have been banned and boycotted by the SNP. This is setting a dangerous precedent. The powers that be will soon be demanding that they see our copy before publication.”

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