Government insists it’s ‘committed to media freedom’ despite controlling access for journalists

Boris Johnson, sitting with his Director of Communications, Lee Cain (right)

Boris Johnson, sitting with his former Director of Communications, Lee Cain (right), with a stack of newspapers on the train. - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

The government has insisted controlling access to press briefings is 'entirely standard practice' despite a mass walkout by journalists after some reporters were barred from a Brexit briefing.

Cabinet Office minister Chloe Smith was forced to defend Number 10's actions in the House of Commons, telling MPs the government was "committed to being open in its dealings with the press and to the principles of media freedom" and claimed "the events of yesterday were a very good example of this".

The minister said no journalists are barred from "official briefings hosted by the prime minister's spokesman" but "it is entirely standard practice for the government to host additional technical specialist briefings, as was the case yesterday".

Selected journalists were invited to Number 10 for a briefing from the prime minister's chief Europe adviser David Frost, but correspondents from organisations that were not on Downing Street's hand-picked list also tried to get in, and were turned away.

Journalists excluded included outlets viewed as left-wing or critical of the government, although Downing Street sources said it was "clearly nonsense" to claim the decision was made on political grounds.

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In protest at the treatment of colleagues from rival organisations, all the journalists present chose to walk out rather than receive the briefing.

The father of the house, veteran Tory MP Sir Peter Bottomley, said: "I do believe that it'd be sensible for the government to consider having a talk to the senior political editors who did walk out and see if there's a way of getting over this problem and resolving it."

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A Number 10 source said: "We reserve the right to brief journalists which we choose whenever we wish to, and that is not something abnormal."

The source said around eight or nine organisations from "across the political spectrum" were invited to the briefing, including the BBC, Sky, The Guardian, ITV, The Sun, the Daily Mail and The Times.

Shadow culture secretary Tracy Brabin said: "It is concerning that Boris Johnson seems to be resorting to tactics imported from Donald Trump to hide from scrutiny."

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