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Televised Government briefings must be inclusive: SoE

The Society of Editors (SoE) is to seek clarification over reports that the government is to introduce daily White House-style televised press briefings.

Televised Government briefings must be inclusive: SoE
Ian Murray: “Briefings that are too stage-managed and favour the few will not be in the best interests of the public as a whole.”

The live broadcasts will replace the existing afternoon briefings to lobby journalists that take place behind closed doors in Downing Street, it is reported. The morning briefings for lobby journalists will still take place and will not be televised.

Hosted by an experienced broadcaster recruited for the role, the briefings are expected to be similar to those held by the White House, says the SoE.

Ian Murray, executive director of the SoE, said: “If the aim of the televised briefings is to enable greater transparency then it will be important that they are of sufficient length and inclusive in nature to ensure a broad cross section of the media is able to question the government.

“It is vital that the government gives assurances that journalists or media providers out of favour with the administration will not be barred from such briefings and will also be given the opportunity to pose questions.

“Briefings that are too stage-managed and favour the few will not be in the best interests of the public as a whole.”

It is believed the change in style to a televised briefing comes after the success of the daily coronavirus briefings which have been followed by millions of people.

The plans are expected to be in place in October.

No 10 will still hold an off-camera lobby briefing in the morning hosted by James Slack, a civil servant and the prime minister’s official spokesman.

The Financial Times reports Downing Street is also preparing to overhaul government communications, which will now be managed from the Cabinet Office instead of by individual departments. The government will significantly reduce the number of people working in communications, which currently stands at 4,000.

Whitehall departments will be forced to limit communications teams to a maximum of 30 under plans drawn up by Downing Street, the FT reports.

Earlier this year No 10 faced criticism after moving daily press briefings from parliament to Downing Street. A letter from the Society of Editors and signed by every national newspaper urged the Prime Minister to rethink the move amid concerns it would “create barriers to covering democracy”.

The SoE has also in recent weeks written to Number 10 to express concern over the use of an official Number 10 photographer to cover the Covid-19 briefings and also events attended by the Prime Minister and senior cabinet members. The SoE called on Number 10 to enable press photographers to also cover events.

The SoE expressed concerns in February when some lobby correspondents were barred from attending a briefing which saw colleagues walk out in solidarity.