UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — On January 31, at 23:00 in the government residence on Downing Street, 10, Prime Minister Boris Johnson picked up a small hand gong and hit it, marking the exact time Britain exited the European Union after nearly half a century of membership.
But did he do it at 23:00? Journalists covering the work of the government, as well as their readers, viewers and listeners, are not sure. The fact is that during the historical ceremony there were no reporters next to the Prime Minister. There was also not a single independent film crew that aired Johnson’s appeal to the nation.
Johnson’s gong videos as well as his speech were recorded by a government photographer and then made public via the premier’s Twitter and Facebook account.
Refusing the services of traditional media, the British leader clearly follows the example of Donald Trump. The head of the White House, as you know, constantly scolds leading American newspapers and most television companies for “fake news” about him. Trump uses his Twitter account as the main platform through which he directly communicates to the public everything that he considers important.
Since Johnson won a stunning victory in the UK general election in mid-December, he has used his power to tightly control how his administration interacts with the public on digital platforms. For these purposes, a special team has been formed in the government, which includes a photographer and political strategists, and Johnson’s schedule has time for weekly answers to questions from citizens on Facebook.
At the same time, press conferences, BBC interviews, and even private meetings between government members and journalists have been kept to a minimum, Bloomberg writes.
According to Johnson’s supporters, the decision on the priority of social networks over traditional media (print, television and radio) is a reflection of the changes in how most people today receive information.
However, British journalists and political opponents of Tory sharply criticize Johnson’s steps to control the coverage of his government.
“An independent video recording of the prime minister’s public activities has an important democratic function,” said Natasha Hurst, a spokeswoman for the UK National Union of Journalists. “The entire media industry must oppose the egregious and dangerous attempts to limit press freedom.”
The most amazing thing is that until recently, Johnson himself was one of the country’s most famous and highly paid newspaper columnists.
Today, some senior government officials fear they will be seen talking to reporters and suspected of leaking information. Others ask that their communication with reporters take place in closed, non-public places, away from the eyes of Johnson’s assistants.
Last week, the tough confrontation between Downing Street and the media turned into a big scandal. A group of prominent political journalists defiantly left the Brexit press conference in protest after Johnson’s aides tried for the second time to expel some media representatives. This practice provoked outrage in parliament: the opposition issued a statement saying Johnson was undermining 200-year-old access for journalists covering British politics.
For decades, prime ministers held press conferences during which reporters could ask any question. Now Johnson’s officials are inviting media representatives only loyal to the Prime Minister, clearly hoping to get more favorable coverage.
“Freedom of the press is the cornerstone of our democracy and journalists should be able to hold the government accountable,” Labor spokeswoman Tracy Brabin says. “Boris Johnson seems to have resorted to tactics borrowed from Donald Trump to hide from close attention.”
As a columnist for The Daily Telegraph, Johnson complained that, in his opinion, a culture of censorship was growing. “We must fight for freedom of speech,” he wrote in 2018.
This article is written and prepared by our foreign editors writing for OBSERVATORY NEWS from different countries around the world – material edited and published by OBSERVATORY staff in our newsroom.
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