A row has broken out between the Press and the Conservative Party over plans to charge for media attendance at the governing party’s annual conference.
National, regional and international newsrooms are refusing to sign up to the Conservative Party’s Autumn Conference following the decision by the party to implement a fee for reporting on the event.
Editors regard the fee as draconian and counter to the Conservative party’s claim to be a defender of press freedom.
The decision, which has caused deep concern among a broad coalition of industry bodies including the News Media Association, Society of Editors, News Media Coalition and Foreign Press Association, comes ahead of the party’s upcoming conference to be held in Manchester in the first week of October.
The impasse follows a breakdown in communication after last year’s conference where the charges were first introduced. No other political party in the UK charges for press accreditation.
Normally hundreds of members of the Press attend.
Industry representatives have challenged the fees, charged at £137 for each journalist’s application, on the basis that any fee for media attendance at party conferences – regardless of the political party – sets a deeply concerning precedent in a democratic society. The decision by newsrooms to withhold booking for the event is also being supported by the Press Gallery of Westminster political correspondents.
In a joint statement today (Sunday, 28th May, 2023), the coalition of industry bodies said: ‘For more than a year, we have been seeking discussion with the Conservative Party to review these charges, as promised. This was to find an alternative solution to supposed concerns which the party seeks to address by charging the media for attendance – a decision which we are united in viewing as undemocratic and detrimental to the interests of society and the Party itself.’
The joint statement added: ‘In a democratic society, all party conferences are of considerable political and public importance and, as such, there should be no charging barrier for journalists to be able to act as the eyes and ears of the public by freely reporting at such events. Through objective journalism, the conference also provides a window for the global community to see UK democracy in action.’
Only last week (18/05/23), Lucy Frazer, Secretary of State for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) trumpeted the way she said the government supports and champions press freedom at home and around the world. She told a major conference that growing Press Freedom was a priority of the UK government. ‘If we want a thriving media sector in the future – our focus has to be on a free press and a press that is free to grow,’ she said. ‘As a government we are taking steps to increase press freedoms and make sure journalists can do their jobs effectively,’ Frazer stressed when speaking to delegates at the Enders Media & Telecoms Conference.
The Conservative Campaign Headquarters has stated previously that the fee is to cover admin costs which have risen because, it says, the party receives numerous Press pass applications from journalists who do not then attend.
In addressing this, the coalition of media organisation’s statement adds: ‘The issue of so-called no-shows is a factor experienced by all popular events of Press interest often due to changing daily news agendas. We have offered alternative ways to reduce the impact and cost of speculative applications, which have fallen on deaf ears. To live up to the Conservative Government’s mantra on press freedom, the accreditation fee for attending the conference must be scrapped’.
A Tory Party spokesman said: ‘A modest charge was introduced to discourage over-accreditation by some media outlets. There are a range of exemptions on offer owing to the challenging financial situation many local outlets face.’
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