Political journalists complain about level of PR control at Theresa May campaign events - Press Gazette

Political journalists complain about level of PR control at Theresa May campaign events

The Conservative party has come under fire for only taking questions from an ptr-arranged list of journalists at Theresa May campaign events.

Tweeting from the Tory campaign event in York this morning Channel 4 News politics reporters Michael Crick said: “Theresa May in York right now, addressing Tory candidates, councillors & activists, not local York voters.

“Only pre-arranged journalists get questions at May events. Those chosen asked by May aide to state Qs in advance.

“I was told by May aide I wasn’t on list to ask May a question, & there was no point in putting my hand up to ask one.

“What shocks me is reporters collaborate with May press team by agreeing to reveal their questions to them in advance.

“One reporter told me May aides made clear if he didn’t state his question in advance then he wouldn’t get a question.

He later reported from a second event May was “taking unprepared questions, chosen by her randomly, from workers at a factory in Morley & Outwood”.

“At this event Theresa May is now also taking random questions from journalists. Huge contrast between the two events.”

Press Gazette understands that the system of pre-arranging which journalists get to ask questions of the Prime Minister is seen by Tory PR staff as a way of ensuring that a range of journalists from different titles get to ask questions. Tory insiders say that journalists are invited to give prior notice of what questions they are going to ask but this is not obligatory.

Sun political editor Tom Newton Dunn responded to the Crick claims on Twitter saying: “Nice story, but not actually true. They may ask, but we don’t tell.”

Daily Mirror head of politics Jason Beattie said on Twitter today: “Supine colleagues in media should collectively take a stand against this (regardless of the party).”

Mirror political columnist Kevin Maguire said: “Big contrast with Corbyn who today did all the TV & Radio stations then the papers, news agencies & web. May’s frit & Cons control freaks.”

And Sun political correspondent Matt Dathan also suggested Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s approach was more open: “This is what elections should be like – political leaders in a room of journalists taking questions….Refreshing to see Corbyn do it today.”

UK political editor of Business Insider Adam Bienkov said: “Increasingly at these events journalists are picked from a pre-approved list, and sometimes the questions are vetted in advance.”

Owen Bennett, deputy political editor of the Huffington Post, claimed earlier this week that Tory aides were holding on to microphones to prevent follow up questions and also complained about the picking of questioners.

He said: “David Davis picking journalists from a list. I’m not on the list. How do I get on the list?”

Alex Spence writing for Buzzfeed said this week: “At the end of each campaign event, May takes a handful of questions from the media, calling out newspapers or broadcasters by name; she never allows the reporters to ask questions spontaneously. Her staff decide in advance which journalists will get to ask questions that day, and usually know what topic the reporters will ask her about. As a result, May is almost never caught out. It’s hard to remember a single occasion in the first two weeks of the campaign when she seemed surprised or rattled by a question. She is almost always in control.

“Occasionally she gives a punchy quote or even says something newsworthy. More often, her answers are variations on the same handful of soundbites the journalists have already heard numerous times at other events. There is no opportunity for follow-ups, for the reporters to probe her responses. In Bristol, she wrapped up the Q&A after only three questions, which took about three minutes, leaving several journalists for prominent media outlets who had made the trip out from London fuming.”

The stage-managed nature of May’s press conferences around the country was also noted today by Quentin Letts writing in the Tory-supporting Daily Mail.

Writing about May’s press conference at a Hindu community hall in north London yesterday, he said: “No civilians were present. This was risk-free territory , open only to politicians, reporters, spin doctors, bodyguards…

“Five questions were admitted from approved journalists (plus an unplanned from Sky News, which the May campaign is said to dislike).”



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Author: Dominic Ponsford

Dominic Ponsford is the editor of Press Gazette


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