Editors condemn exclusion of journalists from briefings and meetings
By Democrat reporter
The Society of Editors has condemned Downing Street’s decision to bar journalists from an ‘inner lobby’ briefing, in a move that reflects 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.
Bill Heaney, Editor of The Democrat, has also asked the Society, of which he is a n Emeritus member, to investigate his situation with West Dunbartonshire Council where the SNP administration have banned and boycotted him in similar circumstances. Heaney is also a Life Member of the National Union of Journalists.
He said: “The Council refuse to send their media releases or invitations to events to me since I raised the matter of the press and public’s inability to hear what was happening at their meetings. I have been excluded from and locked out of meetings in Dumbarton and Clydebank. There is no press bench in either of these ‘chambers’ and it is impossible to see from the public benches the faces of the persons who are speaking.
“I told them on one occasion when they tried to throw me out of a meeting that if they wanted that to happen they would have to call the police. They backed down. Of course they backed down because they know they are in the wrong.
“They also want me to join IPSO, a regulatory body, in order to prove my bona fides as a journalist since I edited the Lennox Herald and the Reporter at different times during my 60-year career. They seem not to realise that my job is not to make friends of influential people, but to hold power to account as I have always done.
“Scotland used to be a free country where freedom of the press to report and comment were greatly valued, and Publish and Be Damned was the clarion call of editors of all political hues and a variety of opinions.
“However, under the Tories led by Boris Johnston, who is wound up from the back by the notorious spin doctor Dominic Cummings, and the SNP, led by Nicola Sturgeon, it has rapidly become anti-democratic.
“She knows about what’s happening here and is doing nothing about it. It’s outrageous, although Labour seems to be ignoring what’s going on and also doing nothing about it.”
Meanwhile, 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 adviser, 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 , left, 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. 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.
Heaney, who is an author of local books, has won the Scotland’s Weekly Journalist of the Year Award three times and was drafted in to the First Minister’s office as a special adviser on weekly and regional newspapers, said: “The SNP used to have a slogan which said ‘It’s Time’. It’s time they woke up and did something to bring about an end to this.”