Journalists boycott government briefing

Tuesday 4th February 2020 | Jake

Almost two months since his election victory, and three days after leaving the EU, Boris Johnson’s vision of governance is beginning to take shape. Having long had an uneasy relationship with some sections of the press (Johnson infamously dodged interviews with the BBC’s Andrew Neil and ITV’s Piers Morgan in 2019’s election campaign), Johnson has moved to limit the access of journalists to his government. A scheduled brief No 10 briefing from Downing Street was boycotted, after Johnson’s senior communications adviser refused entry to numerous journalists.

As reported by the Guardian, the Independent and the Mirror (among others), journalists from a range of publications were shocked to learn they were barred entry from the briefing room. According to the Guardian, two queues were formed outside the room, at the behest of Lee Cain, Johnson’s senior comms adviser, with one line being told they couldn’t enter. The Daily Mirror journalist (and one of those blacklisted by Johnson) Pippa Crerar described the incident as “sinister and sad”.


Andrew Neil of the BBC calls out Boris Johnson. Video courtesy of the Guardian

A No 10 source defended the debacle to the BBC and the Guardian, claiming the exclusive briefing was “inner lobby”, explaining that an inner lobby system gives more senior journalists an opportunity to gather more information. But Downing Street couldn’t save face, with the aforementioned senior journalists taking part in a walkout from the briefing room. The Mirror reports that among the journalists to leave the briefing room in protest were the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, ITV’s Robert Peston, and Beth Rigby from Sky News.

This attempt to pick and choose who gets to report on the government from close quarters marks a new low in relations between the press and Johnson. It is also a frightful indication of the regard Johnson holds for the press in the UK. Clearly criticism is unwelcome. Thankfully the press stood up for their freedom and power.