British journalists 'being played like an instrument' by No.10, say EU counterparts

PUBLISHED: 17:25 10 October 2019 | UPDATED: 17:36 10 October 2019

Journalists begin to gather in Downing Street, London ahead of aBrexit cabinet meeting. Picture: Victoria Jones/PA Archive/PA Images

Journalists begin to gather in Downing Street, London ahead of aBrexit cabinet meeting. Picture: Victoria Jones/PA Archive/PA Images

PA Archive/PA Images

European journalists and experts have criticised the UK media's recent coverage of Brexit, saying that they are being "played like an instrument".

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Journalists are being "co-opted into being useful idiots for No.10", was one scathing comment among many made by foreign journalists at a conference on Brexit and the Media held in London by think tank UK in a Changing Europe.

According to reports by the Press Gazette, international panellists singled out the UK media's current over-reliance on off-the-record comments coming from Number 10.

Panellist and Die Welt journalist Stefanie Bolzen said she had previously been "in awe" of the UK media, but criticised the reporting surrounding an anonymous memo sent to the Spectator.

The 800-word memo, which is widely assumed to be authored by senior adviser Dominic Cummings, alleged that relations between Boris Johnson and German chancellor Angela Merkel had broken down in their last phone call.

She reportedly said: "The idea you would just report on this call without any proof and then the Germans aren't commenting on it because it's true - wow."

Bolzen also said that although she used to admire how sharp and well-informed UK journalists are, she now finds herself "shouting at the radio" in frustration with interviews.

"I now often find myself shouting at the radio thinking why don't you ask about the substance, you let them get away with it so often," she said.

"So much of what MPs say here is without substance and it isn't questioned."

She later added: "I think they [journalists] just get carried away with another leak or another non-paper that just has no substance and you sometimes think 'stop, take a step away and look at the whole picture'. That's absolutely nothing.

"It feels like a constant hot air circle where if you wake up the next morning you are where you were the day before."

Panellist Rasmus Nielsen, director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, said: "British press is being played like an instrument and it doesn't care.

"It's very hard for me to accept that British journalists don't understand what's going on. Of course they do.

"They are smart, hardworking people who care about this."

On another panel, senior research fellow at the UK in a Changing Europe, Jill Rutter, said journalists must insist that Number 10 briefers speak on the record.

She is reported as saying: "I think journalists have been co-opted into being useful idiots for Number 10."

The claimed lapse in standards is particularly problematic for foreign journalists, said Le Monde correspondent Eric Albert.

London correspondents from abroad don't have the same access as local reporters and so are often dependent on the reporting of their UK peers to get the full picture, he said.

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