Business Insider Edition

Boris Johnson accused of mimicking Trump as he bans journalists from press briefings and targets the BBC

Adam Payne , Business Insider US
 Feb 05, 2020, 05:29 PM
Boris Johnson and BBC Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg.
  • Boris Johnson is accused of staging a Trumpian attack on British news organisations.
  • Earlier this week Downing Street banned certain journalists from attending a media briefing.
  • The incident sparked a mass walkout by journalists, with even pro-Conservative newspapers condemning the Johnson administration
  • A Daily Mail columnist said the move "comes from President Trump's playbook."
  • And today Johnson's government will announce controversial plans to review how the BBC is funded.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Boris Johnson's government on Wednesday unveiled plans to unpick the BBC's funding model in a week which the prime minister has been accused of a Donald Trump-like attack on the British press.

The UK Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan used a speech this morning to announce a consultation on whether the British law making it a criminal offence to not pay the BBC license fee should be scrapped, warning that the organisation risked becoming a historical "relic" like the video rentals company Blockbuster.

Johnson's Conservative party has sought to change the BBC's current system for raising funds for a number of years. The BBC uses the fee -£13.30 a month per person - to pay for its television and radio output, plus other services.

Courts of law are responsible for making sure Brits who consume the BBC pay the monthly fee. Former Conservative prime minister David Cameron asked barrister David Perry QC to look into potential alternatives to the current system, such as it no longer being a criminal matter. Perry concluded that no alternative would be more effective.

However, Prime Minister Johnson is pushing ahead with plans to resurrect the idea, in a week during which even pro-Conservative party newspapers have criticised his regime for its treatment of journalists.

The relationship between Downing Street and political journalists in Westminster - known collectively as "the lobby" - has badly deteriorated in the weeks since Johnson's election win at the end of last year.

His administration, led by special advisor Dominic Cummings, has sought to make wholesale changes to how the lobby operates, moving daily briefings with Johnson's spokesperson from the Houses of Parliament to Downing Street.

Downing Street has also broken from decades of tradition by choosing to stop sending government ministers to appear on major BBC political shows, like Radio 4's Today programme.

Relations hit a new low earlier this week when journalists including BBC Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg and ITV's Robert Peston walked out of a Downing Street briefing after certain media outlets were banned from attending.

The briefing planned for Monday was to be conducted by David Frost, Johnson's chief advisor on Brexit, on the subject of Britain's future trade with the European Union after leaving the bloc.

However, numerous outlets were not told about the briefing.

Some journalists from outlets which weren't invited who turned up to the briefing after learning about it were told to leave by Johnson's communications chief, Lee Cain, prompting a walkout of all reporters in attendance.

Donald Trump and Boris Johnson at the NATO summit in London in December 2019.
Steve Parsons-WPA Pool/Getty Images

'All this comes from President Trump's playbook'

The incident has driven even the most pro-Conservative newspapers to accuse the Johnson regime of behaving like President Trump, whose administration has also moved to penalise reporters which it deems hostile.

The Daily Mail's Stephen Glover said the move to block certain journalists from attending the technical briefing was an "alarming development" and "reminiscent of Donald Trump."

Glover wrote: "All this comes from President Trump's playbook.

"In his case, he rails against newspapers such as The Washington Post and the New York Times while putting himself and members of his administration at the disposal of supportive channels such as Fox News.

"That is not how we do things in Britain. We have a tradition here, though Mr Cummings and Mr Cain may not like it, of allowing a range of voices in the media, some of which are bound to be critical of the government of the day.

"I never thought I would live to see a Tory administration blackballing journalists and publications it dislikes."

Opposition politicians also accused Johnson of aping the US President.

John Nicholson, the Scottish National Party's culture spokesperson, said: "Downing Street under Boris Johnson is now banning journalists from briefings if they're seen to be too critical of the prime minister.

"Boris Johnson already hides from interviewers he finds too tough.

"It's an approach to the press borrowed from Trump. It's sinister."

Labour MP David Lammy said the strategy was "straight out of Trump's playbook."

The clash between Downing Street and Westminster journalists prompted Keir Starmer, the frontrunner to be next Labour Party leader, to call for a civil service investigation into the "deeply disturbing" incident.

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