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May and Corbyn’s Rules Strangle the Free Press
By restricting what journalists can ask and write, both May and Corbyn are hurting the freedom of the press, argues Comment Writer Feidhlim Macauley
On May 2nd, Theresa May visited a factory in the marginal seat of St. Ives in Cornwall in what was intended to be an uneventful campaign stop, with a focus on business, trade and investment (and, inevitably, strong and stable leadership). But this visit was overshadowed by the furore caused by the decision by the Conservative party media relations team to lock local reporters from Cornwall Live in a room and severely limit their contact time with the Prime Minister. Reporters from the digital news site said they were unable to film or even see the PM during the visit and when they finally met the Prime Minister they were allowed only three minutes of questioning, and were forbidden from asking Theresa May why they had been banned from filming her during the visit.
Earlier on April 30th, there were concerns that a May event in Crathes in Aberdeenshire had been listed as a ‘child’s birthday party’ in order to maintain secrecy and apparently prevent ordinary members of the public, rather than invited party supporters, from attending. Questions remain about her unwillingness to take part in TV debates with Jeremy Corbyn, debates which the Labour leader has indicated he is willing to participate in should the Prime Minister be involved.
“Their approach is a rigid and unrelenting exercise in stage-management
This fits into a larger pattern of contempt that both the Conservatives and Labour have demonstrated toward the media, and laterally the public, so far in the course of this election campaign. Theresa May and the Conservative party PR machine have, according to Channel 4 Political correspondent Michael Crick, refused to take unscreened questions from the press, and when questions are approved, Tory aides have prevented journalists from asking follow-up questions. Their approach is a rigid and unrelenting exercise in stage-management.
Despite Jeremy Corbyn condemning Theresa May for her approach to the media, Labour’s approach has been no more commendable. BuzzFeed News have been denied access to Corbyn after he erroneously claimed he had been misquoted by them in an interview in which Corbyn said he would stay on as Labour leader regardless of the results of the election on May 8th. If Theresa May’s team are engaged in stiff stage-management of public appearances, the Labour media team is apparently engaged in a disastrously incompetent attempt at damage limitation. All this comes in an atmosphere of antagonism between the media and Corbyn’s Labour party which believes that the press, or at least elements of it, are working to undermine the leader.
“Labour’s approach has been no more commendable
This election has resulted in an unprecedented control of the press by both the Tories and Labour, which is a worrying trend. Free and honest coverage of election campaigns by the press can be key in the outcomes of elections. The obsession with controlling the media to ensure party messages are essentially disseminated by private and public media corporations is a dangerous hijacking of the role of political communication fulfilled by the press.
If the press is not allowed to freely and openly ask questions of possible future Prime Ministers, and other party figures, how can the electorate be expected to make an informed decision? The free press is a central institution in this country. We can only hope that the detrimental actions by both parties do not set a dangerous precedent in the treatment of the press by politicians in our democracy.
Article by Feidhlim Macauley