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Regional editors demand PM reviews lobby changes amid access fears

Five regional editors are among those to demand Boris Johnson reviews changes to the lobby system which have led to concerns over government access for Westminster journalists.

The Society of Editors has sent an open letter to the Prime Minister calling for him to look again at the changes, which has seen regional and national journalists attend lobby meetings at Number 9 Downing Street instead of the Houses of Parliament.

More than 30 editors have signed the letter – including Darren Thwaites, of the Manchester Evening News, Helen Dalby, of Reach plc North East, James Mitchinson, of the Yorkshire Post, Marc Reeves, of the Birmingham Mail, and Mike Norton, of the Bristol Post.

In the letter, the SoE told Mr Johnson – himself a former journalist – that the changes could particularly affect regional lobby correspondents.

10 Downing Street

10 Downing Street

The society said: “There is a concern that these new measures will be to the detriment of all lobby correspondents, but especially those who work for regional titles and also smaller publications and websites.

“The problems faced in negotiating the security surrounding Downing Street and also the fact journalists will not be able to carry their mobile phones are added concerns.

“With your background as a journalist in both the regional and national press you will be aware of just how important access to those at the heart of government is in producing accurate and balanced coverage.

“During the recent Queen’s Speech your government committed itself to protecting freedom of expression and you yourself have often spoken of your support for a free press.

“The daily lobby briefings play a vital role in ensuring the UK’s democracy is scrutinised by the media, but also, we would contend, ensures that those involved in the politics of the nation have face to face access with journalists.”

“We would ask you also to give assurances that no journalists recognised under the lobby system will be barred from attending the Downing Street briefings.”

The letter went on to urge Mr Johnson to further consult with the industry.

A No 10 spokesperson said: “Press briefings have recently been moved from Parliament to Number 9 Downing Street.

“This change means senior officials are more readily available to members of the press and has neither changed the frequency of briefings nor the level of press access.”