By Ian Murray, Society of Editors
Journalists have spoken of confusion and frustration as they tried to piece together what an emergency lockdown announcement for part of the North West of England and parts of Yorkshire meant for readers, reports Behind Local News.
Health secretary Matt Hancock – he of the Great Fire of London analogy with Covid-19 – took to Twitter to say parts of East Lancashire, all of Greater Manchester and parts of West Yorkshire were to be hit with new restrictions within hours.
However, the announcement, which wasn’t posted on government websites at the same time, caused confusion as it didn’t make clear what the new guidelines were.
Conflicting guidance was given by the Department of Health to journalists, and it was left to MPs and local councillors, who had been invited on to a call with the Government to explain what was happening.
Indeed, at one point the only confirmed news was that local lockdowns were coming to parts of the North — and that Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had tweeted her support for them.
At the heart of the confusion was the demand that people from two households do not meet together indoors, as it was far from clear whether that rule was restricted to homes.
More details did arrive in the early hours … after they had apparently become law.
The UK Government has defended its approach, saying it had to move at speed. Health secretary Matt Hancock said the rules were crystal clear. Journalists on the ground disagreed.
Sarah Lester, senior editor at the Manchester Evening News, said: “I’m incredibly proud of our team for navigating a complicated night and giving our readers as much clarity as we could get on our lockdown. I know government has to move fast but astonishing amount of confusion and no firm guidance.
“Millions have read our content but the overwhelming response — among thousands of comments — is confusion and anger, not because of the lockdown but because of lack of clarity.
“Surely this merited a press conference, questions and perhaps the briefing of Northern journalists?
“I think compliance could be a real challenge as it feels a bit like government has lost the room.”
Across the areas affected, MPs scrambled to inform residents on Twitter and Facebook about what they knew, while councils also shared information — although they had to stress they could only share ‘what they know at the moment’ due to a lack of information from Government.
LancsLive reported that the MP for the area with the highest instance of Coronavirus at the moment, Blackburn, wasn’t even informed that the new lockdown was being put in place.
Luke Beardsworth, editor of LancsLive, told readers last night: “In 90 mins these new measures will be in place, and we’re still asking for more information about what this announcement actually means. For comparison, the country was given over a week to figure out putting a face mask on.”
“Whatever you think of us as journalists, we’re putting a lot more effort into trying to tell you what you can and can’t do in an hour than the government has done tonight.”
Kristian Johnson, who covered the news for YorkshireLive last night, said: “Even by this government’s standards, last night’s ‘announcement’ that millions of people are going back into a form of lockdown was staggeringly inept.
“So little detail, so late in the day and so few local leaders consulted or even told about it.”
In Leicestershire, revisions to the severe local lockdown the city was put under several weeks ago were also announced at haste last night, causing confusion for readers.
Dan Martin, political reporter at LeicestershireLive, tweeted: “What’s nuts about this is that we’re here at 10.30pm knowing that there are changes to Leicester lockdown but having to piece things together from MPs tweets People are furious about how this has been communicated.
“Remember the absolute confusion and chaos when we went into Leicester lockdown a month ago? This is just as bad, if not worse. People have so many questions about what they can and can’t do and when things change.”
Scotland cannot escape criticism in this regard, especially in the regard to when and when not to wear face masks, and West Dunbartonshire in particular, where there is no liaison between the Council and The Democrat.