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May pledge called into question as ministers stage secret patch visits

NAthan BriantTheresa 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.


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  • October 22, 2018 at 10:41 am

    ‘but there has as yet been no further response from No 10.’
    No and there won’t be, at least not one which will be anything but a bunch of meaningless platitudes. Mrs May will be presumably too busy trying to dig the country out the ever-gaping chasm which is Brexit.

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  • October 22, 2018 at 2:15 pm

    What arrogance. Government ministers should remember that it is “local” people who vote for an MP and therefore the end result in who governs the country. It does not take too long to conduct an interview. Even though they may not say much at least it gives “local” people the opportunity to read it in their “local” paper. ASadly, I fear that ministers think it is not worth talking to a diminishing breed – the “local” papers but bet you they would put on their best smiles for the regional Tv/radio.

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  • October 23, 2018 at 11:41 am

    Her pledges are becoming meaningless, generally.

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  • October 29, 2018 at 11:11 pm

    I think politicians have done the maths and realise they hardly reach anyone nowadays in a local paper, especially weeklies. Some older MPs might remember the days when their local rag sold 20,000 a week and be aware that now it is nearer 3,000. A bite on TV or radio is preferable to them.
    The argument may be academic. Most pieces in local papers on politicians are bland and boring, especially if a paper has a cosy relationship with its local MP. I doubt if readers miss them or if they have sales value.

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