Organised by the Society of Editors, the letter calls on the PM to assist in opening consultation on the new lobby arrangements between Number 10 and the media after changes were imposed at the start of the new year.
In his letter, executive director of the Society of Editors Ian Murray explains how many editors are concerned the new arrangements, which force lobby correspondents to leave Parliament and travel to Downing Street for the twice-daily briefings, will hamper coverage of open government.
Correspondents now have to negotiate the Downing Street security system before attending the briefings held at Number 9 Downing Street and cannot take mobile phones.
In his letter, countersigned by the editors of every national newspaper as well as prominent regional and broadcast journalists, Murray asks that assurances be given that the new system will not be used to deny individual correspondents access to the briefings.
The letter in full:
Dear Prime Minister,
As you will be aware, changes have been introduced to the way in which journalists attending parliament as part of the lobby system are briefed. The changes which began this week have caused some consternation among members of the Society of Editors who are concerned the new system will create barriers to covering democracy and impede the vital work of a free press.
As a mark of their concern, several editors of national and regional newspapers and news outlets have agreed to add their names to this letter to you requesting that the new lobby system be looked at again.
In particular, editors are concerned at the lack of consultation before the changes were introduced and the new requirement that lobby correspondents must now leave the Houses of Parliament and travel to Downing Street to attend the daily lobby briefings.
It is felt the changes are likely to prove extremely difficult, particularly in the afternoon when correspondents are also required to be in Parliament to report on proceedings.
There is a concern that these new measures will be to the detriment of all lobby correspondents, but especially those who work for regional titles and also smaller publications and websites.
The problems faced in negotiating the security surrounding Downing Street and also the fact journalists will not be able to carry their mobile phones are added concerns.
With your background as a journalist in both the regional and national press you will be aware of just how important access to those at the heart of government is introducing accurate and balanced coverage. During the recent Queen’s Speech your government committed itself to protecting freedom of expression and you yourself have often spoken of your support for a free press.
The daily lobby briefings play a vital role in ensuring the UK’s democracy is scrutinised by the media, but also, we would contend, ensures that those involved in the politics of the nation have face to face access with journalists.
While the Society and its members appreciates the stated aim of the new lobby system is to enable increased access to advisors and others working within government, our members do believe the arrangements carry with them risks of producing the opposite effect.
We would urge you to ask those involved in providing access to your administration to further consult with the industry, particularly in the form of the Lobby Committee which represents those journalists working at Westminster, to seek ways in which the aims of improved communication can be set against the practicalities of day to day covering of Parliament.
We would ask you also to give assurances that no journalists recognised under the lobby system will be barred from attending the Downing Street briefings.
May we in advance thank you for your support in this matter.