Gordon Brown has been advised to scrap proposals to scupper the Freedom of Information Act if he wants to win journalists back over after the bungled handling of his election announcement on Saturday.
The Society of Editors is planning to make a formal complaint to the Government in protest at the way Brown exclusively gave news that the November election was off to the BBC’s Andrew Marr.
Sky News has made an official complaint over Brown’s ‘unfair and highly irregular’handling of the election announcement and ITV has also voiced its strong disapproval.
Marr interviewed Brown on Saturday afternoon for his Sunday morning BBC One programme and then broke news to other journalists himself.
Times political commentator and assistant editor Peter Riddle told Press Gazette that Brown has now seen the end of his ‘honeymoon’with the media.
Society of Editors director Bob Satchwell said: ‘It shouldn’t be left to a journalist to make this announcement outside Downing Street. Brown should have either announced it in a press conference or in a pooled interview.”
After initially giving the impression that his leadership would signal a break with the spin of the Blair years – the weekend’s gaffe has apparently alienated many journalists once more.
When asked what Brown could do to get journalists back on side, Satchwell said: ‘One way is to make sure that the Freedom of Information Act does precisely what the label says and is not further watered down.
‘The other way is to encourage Justice minister Jack Straw to go back to the promise he made when he was Home Secretary to ensure that all new legislation has a media audit to make sure it does not interfere with the media’s ability to report.”
Last week it emerged that the EU Data Retention Directive had given 795 public bodies the ability to seize journalists’ phone records and uncover their contacts.
The head of Sky News, John Ryley, told the permanent secretary, government communications, Howell James and the prime minister’s official spokesman Michael Ellam: ‘It appears both unfair and highly irregular that an announcement of such significant national interest should be made to a single broadcaster, behind closed doors, on an entirely exclusive basis. Surely the correct and proper basis for the news to have been broken was to all broadcast media, at the same time, on a pooled basis – much as Mr Cameron, the Conservative leader, did when he spoke on Saturday evening.
‘Much has been made by Gordon Brown of how, under his premiership, relations with the media would be handled without spin or favour. On this evidence, at least, he has failed to honour his word.'”
Brown tried to make amends by bringing forward his monthly news conference to answer journalists’ criticisms on Monday.
Adam Boulton, Sky political editor, who is also chairman of the Lobby, summed up the affair.
‘It shows the same old spin. I don’t accept bringing forward the news conference is anything more than a continued attempt to spin the news agenda.”