When their long-serving editor-at-large Adam Boulton made an on-air announcement telling viewers of Sky News (“first for breaking wind”) that the Tories were refusing to give the broadcaster the same level of access afforded to BBC, ITV and Channel 4, some pundits found this hard to believe. Sky? Where the Murdoch mafiosi have a 39% stake? The story did not seem plausible. But Boulton was dead right.
This was confirmed in a Sky News statement: “Since early in the election campaign, Sky News has not been getting live interviews on election issues with Conservative ministers. Also, we weren’t initially invited to follow the leader’s tour … We understand this to be because members of the Prime Minister’s team are unhappy with aspects of our political coverage. Sky News stands by its journalism and is committed to fair, impartial and accurate reporting of all the political parties”. What sensitive souls they are.
And, it seems, the slap in the face for Sky News was not an isolated incident. Steven de Foer of Belgian newspaper De Standaard observed yesterday “The Conservative party might rhapsodise about traditional values, but hospitality, courtesy and respect for the press are apparently not among those”. He, too, had been shut out. So, whisper it quietly, has the New York Times. What was the Tories’ game?
After a significant amount of badgering, CCHQ eventually brushed de Foer off with a sniffy “There are limits to the amount of media we can accommodate at visits, and we have had a lot of requests from both UK and international media”. That might sound like an honest answer to a pressurised situation, but de Foer had seen through it.
“The suggestion that May is besieged by hordes of camera teams and reporters from around the globe is nonsense. That media frenzy was last year, during the Brexit campaign … The UK is important, but not that important. The truth is that today only the usual suspects from the national media follow May on the campaign trail, which amounts mostly to nothing more than photo-ops”. So what was going on?
Simples. The Tories are indulging in micro-management of media opportunities that verges on the paranoid. Sky News had discovered that The Blue Team was keeping London’s formerly very occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson out of the way. They had the story triple sourced. Theresa May’s spinners didn’t like that. The Belgian press? Stuff them, very few Tory votes in Belgium. And they’ll get away with it.
Why can I be so sure of that? Two things here. One, the rest of the media, having seen the punishment beating handed out to Sky News, will think twice before incurring the displeasure of Ms May’s minders, and two, the press will almost all ignore it, instead choosing to keep on cheering for the Tories. They have made that choice because the imperial progress of the Empress Theresa means no more press regulation reform.
So the Tories can behave like a bunch of Soviet-era thugs and get away with it, thus demonstrating how free and fearless our press really is. Banana Republic here we come.