Some of the UK’s major broadcasters and news agencies snubbed Boris Johnson’s Brexit Day speech on Friday in protest at a break from tradition that saw the address filmed and distributed by the Government.
The Prime Minister addressed the nation in a three-minute video about how the UK would move forward in the next “act in our great national drama” as it officially left the European Union at 11pm on Friday.
Rather than honouring a “long-established” tradition of having momentous speeches covered by an independent national broadcaster, Number 10 used its in-house digital team to film the address.
The clip was distributed via the PM’s official social media channels and sent to news outlets by email, but it was snubbed by several of the UK’s major broadcasters and agencies.
The PM’s official spokesperson told PA last week: “My understanding is the address to the nation will be available to all including all TV broadcasters, for those who want to watch it on the news, as well as being streamed on social media, and that will allow everyone to hear directly from the PM at this historic moment.”
The BBC has declined to use the footage, although it has reported some of Johnson’s words across its news programmes.
A spokesperson said: “We judge all footage on its news value when considering whether to broadcast it.”
When reports began to emerge that media outlets were planning to boycott the speech at the end of last week, the BBC said: “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.”
ITN, which produces ITV News, Channel 4 News and Channel 5 News was also expected to boycott the footage, sharing similar views to the BBC on the matter. It does not appear to have used the video, although ITN has yet to confirm this is the case for all channels and platforms.
Sky News, also part of the Number 10 pool system, has used at least one clip of Johnson’s address.
News titles including the Guardian, Sun, Telegraph, Express, Mirror and Evening Standard have also used it on their websites.
News agency Associated Press refused to publish or distribute the footage out of principle, and reported that Reuters and AFP did the same.
Lauren Easton, a spokesperson for the Associated Press, said: “An essential role of a free press in a democracy is to have access to and question public officials and hold them to account.
“When access to those officials is restricted, so is the public’s fundamental right to know about what is happening inside their government.
“Government handout video and photos, by their very nature, restrict the access of independent news organisations.”
Ian Murray, executive director of the Society of Editors, warned last week that Downing Street’s plan had “worrying overtones”, urging it to work with the media instead of bypassing it.
“While it is not unacceptable that the Prime Minister creates his own video releases to be aired, if wished by broadcasters, this latest development does have worrying overtones of an administration possibly seeking to bypass the mainstream media to achieve an easier ride,” he said.
“In a free and liberal democracy, it is always best that the Government engages with the media rather than attempt to bypass it.
“In the end, only the public is the loser when open access to those in power is closed off or restricted.”
Tensions between the Government and the media have grown in recent weeks as Johnson’s administration has imposed changes to how political journalists operate, prompting “significant concerns”.
Additional reporting by PA
Picture: UK Government