Journalists who had been given personal invitations to cover a day-long business convention where the main speaker was former US president Bill Clinton were shocked to find that, not only were they banned from entering the building, but there were also menacing guard dogs to keep them out.
The journalists, invited to cover the Yorkshire International Business Convention, which had BBC director general Greg Dyke as another speaker, arrived to be met by men in black suits, with regulation radio communication earpieces and sunglasses, who brusquely told them they could not enter.
They were told they would have to work from an agricultural building, well away from the convention hall. A television had been provided and one container of coffee. The building was also being shared by staff taking their break. The sound from the television was barely audible and the picture continually out of focus, said Malcolm Pithers, head of Media Network Team.
The press delegation decided to march en masse to the main entrance and demand to see the event’s organiser, businessman Mike Firth. Pithers said Firth began berating the media, saying that Clinton’s team had requested the media be kept away for security reasons. Firth then said that, if the arrangements were not acceptable, the media could "go home".
He also accused the media of "being rowdy" at previous events. Only event sponsors Yorkshire Television, the BBC and the Yorkshire Post were allowed to enter the auditorium.
David Parkin, business editor of the Yorkshire Post, felt so uneasy about this that he chose to work alongside his colleagues.
An angry Pithers tracked down Clinton’s "transitional" office in Washington and it provided the name of one of Clinton’s aides.
Pithers approached the secret service team which agreed to fetch the aide. She completely denied that anyone from the former president’s office had asked for the media to be banned.
They were, she said, very much in favour of the media being there – and she arranged an impromptu press conference with Clinton at the end of the convention.
"It was a classic case of how not to handle the media," said Pithers. "To accuse the journalists of being rowdy was frankly ridiculous".
Firth, however, insisted that "the frank exchange of views" had been necessary because part of the deal to get Clinton there had been that there would be no media in the auditorium. He also said that the convention was a total sellout and he had no room for the media.
He confirmed he had said the journalists were rowdy in the past. "They were," he said. "I had complaints from people who had paid good money to sit beside them."
By Jean Morgan