Theresa May’s pledge to safeguard the interests of the regional press has been called into question amid repeated failures to inform local newspapers of ministerial visits to their patches.
Oxford Mail local government reporter Nathan Briant, left, was among a number of local editors and political journalists present at 10 Downing Street earlier this month for a speech in which the Prime Minister spoke of her commitment to the “fearless” local press.
But, in a column for the Mail, Nathan has now accused ministers of trying to “dodge scrutiny” by not informing local journalists about ministerial visits to their areas.
Nathan cited an example from a few weeks ago, in which he only found out in a Conservative Party press release that home secretary Sajid Javid has visited Oxford a number of days previously.
In his column, Nathan wrote: “As much as I was disappointed not to meet Sajid Javid for the first time, I was angered that the home secretary and the Conservatives seemed to deliberately dodge any scrutiny while he was in Oxford. This is not an isolated incident.
“During the last general election, Theresa May visited Newport in South Wales. The local paper, the South Wales Argus, (which I worked at for nearly three years until May 2016) was not told. The government told the paper it was an unfortunate mix up.
“The government cannot have it both ways: it cannot say it values the local press and then actively ignore it when they know their presence is news in local communities.”
Since his column was published on Tuesday, Nathan was able to interview transport minister Jesse Norman during a visit to Oxford on Thursday – but only after finding out through Facebook beforehand that the event was taking place.
Nathan added: “It is not a government which always actively dodges scrutiny when ministers drop into Oxfordshire. But as far as I can see, bad habits are creeping in now and again and they need to be nipped in the bud.”
In his column, he concluded: “It will become easier for papers – as they become more financially challenged over coming years – to simply chuck in press releases from the government, the Conservatives or Labour, without giving them a second thought.
“As far as I’m concerned, that is not the type of journalism that I would want to do. I did not train as a journalist to throw press releases onto pages.
“Such practice would be counterproductive for those people sending them in and journalists, readers and politicians would all suffer.”
When approached by HTFP for a comment on the issues raised by Nathan, Downing Street responded with a link to the text of her previous speech to regional editors and journalists.
We pointed out that it was this speech to which Nathan had been responding, but there has as yet been no further response from No 10.