UK: Ruling Conservatives must scrap plans to charge journalists for access to party conference

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Conservative Party plans to charge journalists to access its annual party conference are a blow to press freedom in the UK and should be scrapped. RSF calls on all UK political parties to ensure the media can continue to access democratic processes freely and fairly.

The ruling Conservative Party has decided to charge members of the press £137 (€160) to attend its conference in October, claiming the charge is necessary to cover administrative costs. No other political party in the UK charges for press accreditation.

A coalition of industry bodies, including the Society of Editors, the News Media Coalition and the Foreign Press Association (FPA), has protested the charges. On 20 June, almost 300 international media organisations, members of the FPA, signed a joint letter calling on the Conservatives to reverse them.

 

The decision to charge journalists to access an important political gathering sets a dangerous precedent and interferes with the vital role of the press in holding politicians to account and keeping the public informed. The UK’s political leaders have repeatedly claimed that press freedom is a priority – but once again, in practice, they are restricting journalists and letting their citizens down.

Fiona O'Brien
UK Bureau Director

The Conservative Party has said the charge is necessary to cover the cost of journalists who sign up for the conference but fail to attend. Industry representatives have suggested alternative mechanisms to cover the cost of ‘no-shows’ while not discriminating against those who do want to attend, but their suggestions have so far been rejected.

“We believe that a fundamental tenet of a free and democratic society is allowing journalists – from all over the world - to freely report on matters of public interest,” the FPA said in its letter. “We have not found any comparable charges in any other country in the world, let alone in any other democracy…This decision sets a dangerous precedent for countries all over the world who will use this decision to justify financial and other barriers to media scrutiny of the political process.”

Hundreds of members of the press usually attend party conferences in the UK. Some newsrooms have so far refused to sign up to the Conservative conference because of the fee. 

A Conservative party spokesperson told the News Media Coalition in May that the 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,” the spokesperson said. 

 

 

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