Downing Street has chosen to freeze out the BBC and other national broadcasters from recording Boris Johnson’s ‘Brexit day’ message, in a move that critics say has “worrying overtones”.
Avoiding scrutiny for “an easier ride”?
Johnson will issue an “address to the nation” on Friday 31 January, to mark Britain’s exit from the European Union at 11pm. But Downing Street is due to film the message internally rather than honouring a “long-established” arrangement of having historic speeches covered by a national broadcaster. Johnson’s in-house digital team will control the distribution of the recording to news outlets and its publication on social media.
The Conservative leader’s controversial move follows a government boycott of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and ITV’s Good Morning Britain, with no minister appearing on either since the election. This continues an apparent pattern of Johnson and his team avoiding public and media scrutiny, which began during the 2019 election campaign.
Ian Murray, executive director of the Society of Editors, said:
this latest development does have worrying overtones of an administration possibly seeking to bypass the mainstream media to achieve an easier ride. …
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In the end, only the public is the loser when open access to those in power is closed off or restricted.
Tensions between Johnson and the media continue
The BBC, meanwhile, stated that it would make its own judgment on the “news value” of the address before deciding whether to air Johnson’s words. A spokesperson insisted:
There’s a long-established process for recording statements by the Prime Minister at significant times where one broadcaster records it and shares the footage…
The BBC and the other broadcasters are well used to following this usual process, which respects our independence as broadcasters.
If Number 10 wants to supply its own footage we will judge it on its news value when deciding whether to broadcast it, as we would with any footage supplied to us by third parties.
The development comes at a time of tension between Westminster journalists and Johnson’s administration following a decision, taken without consultation last month, to move daily briefings with his official spokesperson from parliament to Downing Street. Journalists have to pass through security to access the briefings at 9 Downing Street, which sparked fears that Johnson’s team could start to vet who attends the meetings.
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