Local press Olympics lock-out raised in Commons

The Minister for Sport has intervened in the controversy over press passes for next year’s London Olympics, after it emerged only a handful had been given to local newspapers.

On Friday we revealed that only one local newspaper in London had been allocated a press pass – Archant’s Newham Recorder.

Newsquest, which publishes more than 30 newspapers across the capital, has none, and is now looking to galvanise support among local politicians.

Orpington Conservative MP Jo Johnson, the former associate editor of the Financial Times and brother of London Mayor Boris Johnson, has raised the issue with Minister for Sport and The Olympics, Hugh Robertson.

Johnson said it was a ’cause of great concern’that local media ‘particularly in London–the city on whose goodwill the success of these games depends–are being shut out’of the Olympics.

He added: ‘Will he [Robertson] join me in calling on the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport to look closely at the decision by the British Olympic Association to deny media accreditation to such fine local London papers as the News Shopper?”

A total of 400 accreditations were made available for the UK national and regional press but the body responsible for allocating them, the British Olympics Association, received more than 3,000 applications.

Robertson accepted that accreditation was ‘massively over-subscribed’but added: ‘That said, I understand the logic of giving as many passes as possible to the international media and national news outlets, but he [Johnson] is right that it has to be balanced with local media outlets, many of which have been extraordinarily supportive of the games and on whose doorstep they are taking place.”

The Newspaper Society has been lobbying to increase the number of accreditations for the regional press since they were allocated in May and is currently in talks about setting up a pool of around 12 regional press reporters that will provide copy to regional and local newspapers.

The BOA, meanwhile, said alternative arrangement will be put in place for non-accredited journalists including a Team GB area which will host one-to-one interviews and press conferences.

Robertson insisted that ‘considerable provision’was being made for newspapers who are not formally accredited, but promised to write to the BOA about the matter.

‘I will particularly investigate the position regarding London media, because this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity,’he said.

The Tory MP for Croydon, Gavin Barwell, said the BOA was under the impression that local journalists granted accreditation would attend every event.

‘Obviously, there is a limit on overall capacity, but clearly our local papers just want to cover the events in which athletes from our boroughs are competing,’he said.

‘It ought to be possible to arrive at a flexible arrangement that enables our local London papers to do that. I would be grateful if the minister were to take that point on board.”

Newsquest‘s Guardian series of papers across London and Surrey said it had written to every MP and London Assembly Member (AM) in its circulation areas and said many had vowed support its campaign to gain accreditation.

They include Liberal Democrat London Assembly Olympics spokesperson Baroness Dee Doocey, assembly members James Cleverly and John Biggs and Wimbledon MP Stephen Hammond.

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