UK Government Crack-Down On Press Freedom Just The Start

10th February 2020 / United Kingdom
UK Government Crack-Down On Press Freedom Just The Start

By TruePublica: Conservatism was built on the principle of democracy. From the 1820s, the Tories morphed into a party with a firm commitment to the ideals of law and order and a more generous vision of the welfare state as opposed to the punitive vision of its own predecessors. In 2005, there was a push for its reformed ‘One-Nation‘ approach – for what they described as a paternalistic form of British political conservatism. It advocated the preservation of established institutions and traditional principles within a political democracy, in combination with social and economic programmes designed to benefit the ordinary person.

All that has now been swept away. The Conservative party of today has little of the DNA that made it one of the most successful political organisations in the world. It has abandoned its roots, ideals and principles. It is now governed by a right-wing faction, supported by a new clutch of subordinated MPs and intends to enforce an iron grip over what was once Britain’s admired constitutional democracy.

In rapid order, it has adopted nativist ideologies combined with their natural authoritarian tendencies. The definition of a fascist movement now fits the current party in power – “As they view their community in a state of decay facilitated by the ruling elites, far-right members portray themselves as a natural, sane and alternative elite, with the redemptive mission of saving society from its promised doom. The current political order is presented as needing to be abandoned or purged of impurity so that the “redemptive community” can leave the phase of liminal crisis to usher in the new era.”

I hope that that one sentence sent a shiver up your spine. It’s just the start of many political shocks to come.


The clamp-down

One hallmark of this new ‘iron grip’ is the very fast clamp-down on press freedom.

Alex Wickham from BuzzFeed News describes how he sees it right now – “Since Johnson’s election win, his top team has launched a war on the media on several fronts that include existential reforms for the BBC and Channel 4, day-to-day changes to the government’s relationship with broadcasters, and a controversial shake-up of the Lobby system of Westminster correspondents.

In one example –  The government has threatened ITV with “consequences for its future” after the channel chose Nigel Farage to represent Brexiteers during its televised debate, rather than Boris Johnson or Michael Gove during the election. Vote Leave chief Dominic Cummings saw this as a politically biased decision by ITV to ignore the official Leave campaign and deliberately associate Brexit with the more divisive Farage. His email effectively put ITV on notice that if Cummings ever got into government, he would be seeking revenge. And he is.


The Culture secretary Nicky Morgan has used the Daily Mail to warn that the BBC could end up the same way as collapsed video rental firm Blockbuster.


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Johnson and his team are now emulating the worst of Donald Trump’s war on the media. By the accounts of some, a few top Tories are very worried where all this is going. Deep divisions in the new administration are already becoming visible.

As for the BBC – Johnson (or Cummings), will decide who will be the next BBC director-general. They will actively endorse a controversial Conservative-leaning political candidate with threats of vengeance should the BBC attempt to take a stand by considering a liberal-centrist. If they don’t, the Culture secretary Nicky Morgan has used the Daily Mail to warn that the BBC could end up the same way as collapsed video rental firm Blockbuster.

Journalists now accept that Downing street is completely dedicated and is serious to the idea to decriminalise non-payment of the BBC licence fee and review Channel 4’s public service broadcasting obligations. These are clear existential threats to these institutions.

There has been some pushback. On last months ‘Brexit’ night, Downing Street put considerable effort in filming their own video of Boris Johnson’s message to the nation. This was a first for the media who would usually film the event live and ‘pool’ the video between them. The consequence was that the BBC and ITV refused to air the clip on the 10 O’Clock news when ordered as it was little more than propaganda.

Senior Tories were apoplectic at that decision but accepted that their own attempt to bounce the broadcasters into doing what they wanted had badly backfired.” However, more revenge was to come.



From here, the war against the media has rapidly escalated. Senior journalists are only invited for briefings if they parrot the government line. Others more critical or at least questioning are barred.

Announcements by the BBC of programming cuts are already across the airwaves. Its famous Today programme and Newsnight are facing severe cutbacks. The BBC has already confirmed that its newsroom will lose 450 jobs. In the meantime,  ITV’s Good Morning Britain is now boycotted by the government.

Political journalist’s that meet together at Westminister is the called the ‘Lobby’ – but that has now been reorganised by the government to the point of subversion making it deliberately difficult for some journalists to even attend. The government has not bothered responding to a letter sent by the Society of Editors (SoE) asking them to reconsider their actions. The highly publicised walkout last week by journalists was another response to government overreach and its attempt to grip the narrative, which was then condemned by many. Not that it made any difference.

There is now an ‘inner-lobby’ – consisting of people like Laura Kuenssberg and Robert Peston, which only goes to confirm one thing. Parrot the government line or you’re out. The SoE went on to complain that – “this is the latest in a run of problematic media encounters by the new administration” and that “these events confirm the Society’s concerns for press freedom are very real.”

The government have now also insisted that there can be no cabinet minister media visibility except if it has been cleared by Number 10 first. Then they are forcing everyone in departments from the Treasury to the Foreign Office to use a specific and approved form language over Brexit. Patrick Wintour, the diplomatic editor of The Guardian describes this as – “Downing Street is determined that everyone in the department follows its ideological lead in using language that frames Britain’s departure from the European Union as a clean break.” Words like “implementation period”, “no-deal”, “special partnership” and even “Brexit” are no longer allowed – even though Brexit is in an implementation period that is likely to lead to no deal which will end our special partnership with the EU.

In the last World Press Freedom report (2019), the UK was ranked one of the worst Western European countries in the World Press Freedom Index, largely due to a heavy-handed approach towards the press, often in the name of national security. This was in the day of Cameron and May. No doubt, its 2020 report will see the UK in a dramatic fall once again as the government continues its clampdown on criticism and attempting to hold it to account.


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