The editor of every national UK news title has signed a letter to Boris Johnson urging him to rethink changes to Government press briefings affecting journalists based at Westminster, known as the Lobby.
Chris Evans, the editor of the Telegraph, which backed Johnson’s re-election and where the Prime Minister was previously a paid columnist, is among the 33 signatories to the letter.
Johnson’s administration has moved the two daily briefings with the Government’s official spokesperson, and all ad hoc informal meetings known as “huddles”, from the House of Commons to Downing Street.
The Lobby committee has said it has some “significant concerns” over the change of venue which came into effect on 6 January and was made without consulting journalists.
Chairman of the Lobby, Christopher Hope, also chief political correspondent at the Telegraph, has called for a compromise that would see the afternoon briefing return to the Lobby room at the House of Commons.
Editors are now “requesting that the new lobby system be looked at again”, according to the letter addressed to Johnson, sent by Society of Editors’ executive director Ian Murray.
Major broadcasters BBC News and ITV News did not sign the letter, nor did Evening Standard editor and former Tory MP George Osborne, although the paper’s managing editor Doug Wills did.
Murray said the society’s members, comprising senior editorial staff in the national and regional press, are “concerned the new system will create barriers to covering democracy and impede the vital work of a free press”.
He said editors were also worried by the “lack of consultation before the changes were introduced…”.
The Lobby’s central concerns are that journalists will now find it harder to cover parliamentary proceedings in the afternoon and also attend the briefing, which is now a five-minute walk away.
Number 10 has said the change of venue to Number 9 Downing Street will allow Lobby reporters to have more briefings from advisers and expert officials.
But the Lobby committee has raised concerns that the Government could refuse access to journalists at the entrance to Downing Street, which is guarded by police, and so restrict press freedom.
Johnson banned a journalist from left-leaning daily tabloid the Mirror from joining him on his battle bus during the election campaign last year and has repeatedly snubbed Channel 4 and Channel 4 News.
Murray appealed to the Prime Minister’s own experience as a journalist in his letter, which was sent today and copied in Number 10 director of communications Lee Cain.
“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 in producing accurate and balanced coverage,” he said.
“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.”
Editors asked Johnson “to seek ways in which the aims of improved communication can be set against the practicalities of day-to-day covering of Parliament”.
It also called on him to “give assurances that no journalists recognised under the Lobby system would be barred from attending the Downing Street briefings”.
Journalists must receive accreditation to join the Lobby. The group includes 15 daily newspapers, six news channels, 12 news agencies, three magazines and a number of local and foreign titles.
The letter to Johnson was signed by the following editors:
- Alison Phillips, Editor, Daily Mirror
- Ben De Pear, Editor, Channel 4 News
- Cait Fitzsimons, Editor, 5 News
- Chris Evans, Editor, The Telegraph
- Christian Broughton, Editor, The Independent
- Christian May, Editor, City AM
- Darren Thwaites, Editor-in-Chief, Manchester Evening News
- Deborah Bonetti, Director, Foreign Press Association and UK correspondent for Il Giorno
- Dorothy Byrne, Head of News and Current Affairs, Channel 4
- Doug Wills, Managing Editor, Evening Standard
- Gary Jones, Editor, Daily Express
- Geordie Greig, Editor, Mail Newspapers
- Helen Dalby, Editor-in-Chief, Reach North East
- James Mitchinson, Editor, The Yorkshire Post
- Jimmy Leach, Editor-in-Chief, HuffPost UK
- John Witherow, Editor, The Times
- Jon Clark, Editor-in-Chief, Daily Star and Daily Star Sunday
- Jonathan Levy, Director of Newsgathering, Sky News
- Katharine Viner, Editor-in-Chief, The Guardian
- Lloyd Embley, Group Editor-in-Chief, Reach PLC
- Marc Reeves, Editor-in-Chief, Reach Midlands Media Ltd
- Martin Ivens, Editor, The Sunday Times
- Mike Norton, Editor, Bristol Post
- Oliver Duff, Editor-in-Chief, i
- Paul Webster, Editor, The Observer
- Peter Clifton, Editor-in-Chief, PA Media
- Peter Willis, Editor, The Sunday Mirror and Sunday People
- Roula Khalaf, Editor, Financial Times
- Stuart Millar, Editor, BuzzFeed UK
- Ted Verity, Editor, The Mail on Sunday
- Ted Young, Editor, Metro
- Tony Gallagher, Editor-in-Chief, The Sun
- Victoria Newton, Editor, The Sun on Sunday
Picture: Kirsty Wigglesworth/Pool/Reuters