They were proposed last summer as a way to revolutionize the transparency of government communications. But the advent of televised White House-style press conferences will be delayed again until mid-May, as No. 10 seeks to reform its communications strategy following the departure of key personnel.
The delay means that at least seven months are likely to pass between former ITV journalist Allegra Stratton being hired at a salary of £ 125,000 to be the public face of the government and her first appearance on the country’s television screens.
Despite ongoing speculation that Downing Street has misgivings about the idea of televising political press conferences, sources insisted the plan is to move forward with them once the May elections are out of the way. The expectation is that by then the relaxation of the coronavirus rules means that the public will not expect to see family ministers on their screens, while the end of the election campaign means that television channels will not worry about possible violations of the rules of transmission impartiality.
It comes as Boris Johnson seeks a new communications director to shape political messages after the Downing Street pandemic after the recruitment of incumbent James Slack as deputy editor of the Sun, announced last week.
There is tension at the top of government between those who want to continue a combative war with the media focused on “culture war” issues and those who insist they want a more traditional collaborative approach with the favored media with a focus on softer issues. such climate change.
A key change has been the departure of many of the former Vote Leave employees who came to government with former chief of staff Dominic Cummings and press officer Lee Cain. They were willing to boycott entire programs, but left behind a half-finished revolution to focus on online communications and de-size government communications departments when they abruptly withdrew in November amid internal government fighting.
Instead, this week MPs raised concerns that the government may have raised the idea of decriminalizing non-payment of the license fee to influence the BBC’s editorial line without having to change the law.
When the idea of decriminalization was first publicly proposed by Cummings’ advice in December 2019, it panicked the BBC and helped lead to the early retirement of BBC Director General Tony Hall. This laid the groundwork for the appointment of his replacement Tim Davie, who has followed a series of pro-government policies, including cracking down on the use of social media by BBC staff and curbing left-wing comedy shows. . With the change of direction already achieved, and the BBC’s strong support for government messages during the coronavirus pandemic, there is some confidence that the war has been won.
Even those who work with Johnson have been puzzled at times by which media approach is genuinely endorsed by the prime minister. Insiders reported that the prime minister’s mood was often affected by negative articles in the Daily Telegraph, his former employer.
“One day he wants to have a swing at the BBC and the next he doesn’t want to have an argument with anyone,” said one.
Instead, sources repeatedly cited 10th policy chief Munira Mirza as an individual fueling the desire to fight the media on culture war issues, sometimes to the frustration of press aides.
Relations between political journalists and Downing Street have been strained in recent weeks by the decision to break with precedent and not inform lobby journalists about the phone calls the prime minister has been having with other European leaders. Downing Street had argued that the discussions with European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen and French President Emmanuel Macron were simply private calls that did not need to be disclosed.
There is also concern among political journalists that Downing Street is tolerating ministers who make their own attacks on the media. In recent months, two UK HuffPost reporters, Nadine White and Arj Singh, have been targeted by conservative ministers. Kemi Badenoch Y Jacob Rees-Mogg For his job. Amid protests from members of the media, Downing Street slightly distanced itself from their actions but did not force them to apologize, and Rees-Mogg repeatedly refused to drop his accusation that Singh tampered with the audio to smear the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab.
For the public, the biggest change will be the upcoming press conferences, which could be as revealing for the political journalists asking the questions as it will be for Stratton.
The £ 2.6 million bill to refurbish a room at 9 Downing Street to host the briefings has already come under scrutiny, and the substantial cost is attributed in part to fixing the terrible acoustics in a location that is up until now. little was a disused private courtroom built for listening. Commonwealth nation court cases.
The meeting room will have its first public broadcast on Monday, when Johnson transfers his coronavirus press conference to the venue. But there is one concern that is more difficult to fix: the decision to install an incredibly easy Photoshop background to make memes of the prime minister or his spokesperson.
One person who saw the setup asked, “Why wasn’t anyone there pointing out that you built a blue screen?”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism