The Oxford Mail has slammed politicians who dodge the regional press after the daily was “shunned” by Boris Johnson on his visit to the area last week.
Downing Street failed to send over any details of the Prime Minister’s Oxfordshire trip last Thursday to the Mail, according to local democracy reporter Nathan Briant who was alerted to his imminent arrival by a contact the night before.
After receiving no information from Number 10 on Thursday morning, Briant said he made repeated calls to the Downing Street press office asking to know where Johnson would be and whether the Mail would be able to have a “quick chat” with him.
Johnson’s team simply told the reporter he would be given information “as and when”, according to an Oxford Mail editorial by Briant published today.
Briant wrote: “It was frustrating. Had I been told the newspaper was not going to be invited would have been disappointing. But it would have at least stopped me from wondering what else was going to happen throughout the day.”
He added that “it says so much about our current politics – and the calibre of politicians we currently suffer – that so many are not willing to publicly address major issues that could blight some of our readers’ lives in the future”.
He eventually discovered BBC political correspondent Ben Wright was given an exclusive interview with Johnson on the Oxfordshire trip.
“I am not unrealistic in believing the regional press has any place above any other media. Boris Johnson’s exclusive interview with the BBC’s Ben Wright obviously reached more people than the Oxford Mail or Oxfordshire broadcasters would have ever been able to do,” Briant wrote.
“But Mr Johnson was chewing the fat with Conservative activists for about 45 minutes at a hotel in Abingdon. It would surely not have been unreasonable to ask him to have a quick chat with other broadcasters and newspapers for a tiny fraction of that time.”
Briant added that Johnson was “simply one in a long line of senior politicians who do not want to face scrutiny on certain issues”, pointing to Theresa May’s “shaky” media strategy and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s “regrettable” attitude towards journalists in some interviews.
“All three would claim to support their local and regional press,” Briant said.
“But being in touch with your own paper to appear responsive in your own constituency is a different thing from supporting the industry as a whole.”
Oxford Mail editor Samantha Harman criticised the snub on Twitter, writing: “Local news outlets have a massive audience, all engaged in their local community and politics – and they want answers from you. They deserve answers from you.
“Stop dodging us and by extension, them. They see through it and so do we.”
Newsquest editorial director Toby Granville added: “This utter disdain of the press by politicians has got to stop. And change has to come from the top Boris Johnson.
“You will all be wanting our support if there’s an election soon.”
Press Gazette has contacted Downing Street for a response.
Johnson’s latest snub of local media comes two weeks after Welsh media were banned from filming questions on his first trip to the nation as Prime Minister.
Welsh reporters were not offered any one-to-one interviews with Johnson.
His Wales visit had a pool arrangement in which an ITV camera was allowed to film while one journalist asked questions, with footage shared among outlets.
Picture: Kirsty Wigglesworth/Pool via Reuters