Lobby Changes Could Be ‘Hugely Damaging’ To Press Freedom

Changes to the way the Government briefs political journalists in Westminster could be “hugely damaging to the freedom of the press” by paving the way for an administration to refuse access to journalists it may not approve of.

The News Media Association is supporting the lobby in Westminster over its call to meet with Number 10 Downing Street officials to discuss changes to the system, in particular the move to hold a key daily Government briefing in Downing Street rather than the Houses of Parliament.

In a letter to No 10 director of communications Lee Cain, lobby chairman Christopher Hope warned that the changes would “severely damage” the ability of smaller publications to report on the activities of Government.

In the letter Mr Hope, The Daily Telegraph chief political correspondent and assistant editor, said: “For the first time in its 150 year history Lobby journalists will have to ask permission from the Government to be briefed by the Prime Minister’s official spokesman, rather than meet in a room in Parliament.

“The committee remains very concerned that the current or a future Government will be able to use this power to refuse access to journalists it may not approve of. This would be hugely damaging to the freedom of the Press.

“It will severely damage the ability of smaller publications, websites, agencies with small staffs to attend the meeting and scrutinise the work of the Government and Parliament. I have received submissions from the Deputy Editor of the Yorkshire Post, the Society of Editors, and the News Media Association as well as contributions from the Political Editors of the Daily Record, The Herald, Associated Press among others, all making the same point about the damage to scrutiny of the Government.”

The NMA said: “The NMA represents the interests of the national and regional news media industry in the UK.

“We have a long history of working with the regional lobby on events such as Ministerial lunches and on media facilities and access issues affecting national newspaper and agency photographers working in Westminster.

“We urge No 10 to consult with the lobby committee on these changes to a system which is effective and well understood by all parties.

“Political journalists in Westminster perform a vital role scrutinising authority on behalf of the public. It is vital that any reforms to the lobby system enhance and improve media access rather than damaging press freedom.”