POLITICAL journalists staged a walk-out in Downing Street today in protest after Number 10 ordered some reporters from media outlets to leave a Brexit briefing.
Selected correspondents were invited for the briefing from officials, but journos from organisations who were not on the hand-picked list also tried to get in.
One of those present described the government’s actions as “sinister and sad”.
According to those present, when political journos arrived inside they were asked their names and told to stand on opposite sides of the entrance hall.
The Independent’s political editor Andy Woodcock said Number 10’s director of communications Lee Cain then invited those on one side to enter and told those on the other to leave.
When his actions were questioned he told reporters: “We are welcome to brief whoever we want whenever we want.”
The journalists excluded included outlets viewed as left-wing or critical of the Government, but the briefing was due to involve senior civil servants – who are politically impartial.
‘SINISTER AND SAD’
In protest at the treatment of colleagues from rival organisations, all the journalists present chose to walk out rather than receive the briefing.
Among those who walked out were the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, ITV’s Robert Peston and journalists from newspapers including The Sun.
It is the latest sign of the strained relationship between Number 10 and political journalists.
The Prime Minister’s Brexit day “address to the nation” was filmed by Downing Street, rather than a crew from a TV network as would usually be the case – leading to criticism from broadcasters.
Lobby correspondents have also seen their regular briefings moved from Parliament to 9 Downing Street, raising fears about the prospect of reporters being banned.
A Number 10 source said the Prime Minister’s Europe adviser David Frost was due to speak to “senior, specialist members of the lobby” – a so-called “inner lobby”.
The source added: “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.
They said: “No one is banned – people are invited for an additional briefing, so that sort of language in itself is wrong.”
The source insisted that left-leaning publications had been invited in the past and said that to suggest the exclusion of some publications was on political grounds was “clearly nonsense”.
Responding to a point of order raised by Ms Brabin, deputy Commons speaker Dame Eleanor Laing said lobby journalists should be “treated with respect”.
She said: “Of course I agree with her, everyone will agree with her, that accredited lobby journalists are indeed part of our parliamentary community and so, of course, must be, should be, and normally are treated with respect.”
Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, said it was a “very alarming incident”.
She said: “As ministers are now regularly refusing to be accountable for their actions by boycotting certain programmes and journalists, this represents another very dangerous step.
“Johnson’s government must stop this paranoia and engage with all the press, not just their favourites.”