A regional daily editor has hit out at Downing Street’s attempts to stage manage events involving David Cameron taking place on his newspaper’s patch.
Simon O’Neill, of the Oxford Mail, says his staff feel “bewildered and insulted” by apparent interventions from Number 10 when they cover Mr Cameron’s public appearances in his constituency of Witney, in Oxfordshire.
Simon claims that on Friday afternoon West Oxfordshire District Council called the Mail’s picture desk to say photographs taken of Mr Cameron when he opened a charity cafe in Witney could not be used as Downing Street “hadn’t approved them yet”.
The Mail had been invited to the opening by Mr Cameron’s constituency office, but freelance photographer Denis Kennedy, who covered the event for the paper, was also informed Number 10 would have to approve the photos before they were published.
The Mail ignored the request and printed the photos of the Prime Minister, pictured above left at the opening, in Saturday’s edition as planned.
Simon told HTFP the latest incident follows a string of interventions by Downing Street in recent years, which have seen Mail journalists refused access to, and ejected from, events featuring Mr Cameron.
He said: “There is an absolutely obsessive Number 10 control of Cameron and his image, and everything he says and does is stage-managed to a ludicrous degree.
“We’re not talking about the G8 here, we’re talking about local charities, good news stories and bread and butter for a local paper.
“We’ve had problems for some time now and staff are bewildered and they feel insulted by it, and angry as well, because they’re just trying to do their job.”
During the run-up to May’s General Election both Mr Cameron and the Conservative Party were criticised for their treatment of the regional press, with reporters and photographers at newspapers across the country complaining over a lack of access.
Simon says he does not blame either Mr Cameron’s local constituency office or the council for the issue.
He added: “I don’t directly blame the Prime Minister, but I do blame the control freak mentality that surrounds him.”
A spokesman for Number 10 Downing Street has denied Simon’s claims, saying it was “simply not true” that approval had been requested.