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UK is turning to the White House for inspiration at press conferences



On Wednesday, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom set up a new list of jobs: A spokesperson to present a new daily press conference on television, just like the White House press secretary. The briefings, which are expected to begin in October, are a big shock to traditional off-camera sparklers twice a day London journalists are accustomed to.

“You will represent the government and the Prime Minister in front of an audience of millions every day, through major broadcast channels and social media, and you will have the opportunity to influence and shape public opinion,” the job post said.

Johnson wants to continue this.

“We think people want direct engagement and they want things from us and so we will do that,”

; Johnson told LBC radio in early July. “I will show up from time to time, I have no doubt.”

Briefing or performance?

But in Washington, where daily announcements have been made since 1995, those on both sides of the podium have a warning: Turning on the cameras will make Downing Street more like a stage at Shakespeare’s Globe, the famous Elizabethan Theater just below the River Thames.

And for some, that’s a bad thing.

Mike McCurry, the Clinton White House Press Secretary who brought television announcements in 1995, is vocal about his regrets for allowing networks to broadcast daily real-time information, telling CNN Business that they are turned into “a reality TV show”.

Now he thinks the report should be included in the embargo until its completion.

“It requires journalists to record the conference, test information against other sources, possibly get comments from others, and then prepare reports that use what is really news,” McCurry said.

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This is unlikely to happen in today’s living world. Joe Lockhart, who took over the White House press secretary after McCurry, told CNN Business that he expects both sides in London to treat the exercise as a theater.

“Downing Street is likely to bring in a TV presenter (for the role of spokesperson) and I think reporters just by human nature, a lot of them will see this as a way to get on TV, getting attention,” he said. Lockhart. “It will not be a summary itself, but a show.”

On the podium reporters Caren Bohan, Washington editor at USA Today and a former president of the White House Correspondents Association, told CNN Business television that the announcements on Downing Street would change relations between the press and the government. But she said it was “too late”.

“Most public officials are more likely to be protected by cameras than they would be to speak in front of reporters without cameras. You are more likely to get ‘talking points’ and fewer honest answers,” Bohan said. “The more access there is, the better it is for the press and the public.”

In London, the group of reporters covering Downing Street is known as the Lobby and they participate in two announcements with the Prime Minister’s spokesperson every day. Briefings are off-camera and spokespersons are always identified only as “government spokespersons”. Audio recording is also not allowed.

And while many journalists in London are open to television conferencing, some are wary of their peers – some of whom are already “peacock off,” as one political correspondent for a British newspaper puts it – getting involved in theater and growing up. those egos trying to save with government officials on national TV.

Former ITV anchor Alastair Stewart wrote in a column for Spectator that this way at least, the public will be able to see and hear the questioner and respondent in full view.

“There is more merit to having a free and honest exchange between the press and politicians, in the full brightness of the TV lights, than to continue with the semi-secret hall pantomime,” he wrote.

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Others worry that turning on the cameras will actually reduce transparency. So far there have been few details on the exact format of the conferences and who will be allowed to attend.

In a joint statement to the media guards The Daily Mirror’s Pippa Crerar, chairman of the Parliamentary Press Gallery, and Jason Groves, chairman of the Lobby, said they did not want to see the new briefings “used as an excuse to reduce transparency by, for example” “reducing the number of daily conferences, limiting the number of questions they can ask, or our proper access to ministers.”

Advice

Journalists need to be prepared for canned sounds, made for TV by a government spokesman, warned veteran Washington correspondents.

Ben Feller, a former White House correspondent for the Associated Press and now a partner in communications strategy firm Mercury, told CNN Business most reporters find daily announcements with the press secretary useless for gathering new information .

But reporters still have to “prepare properly, get to the right point, not get answers, follow up and act as you would.”

As for the elected spokesman, they will surely become the second most well-known person in the UK government, with the first being the Prime Minister.

According to some reports, Downing Street is specifically looking to bring in someone with experience in broadcasting journalism to fulfill the role. But Lockhart warned Downing Street not to “just hire a familiar face who can forgive the road”.

The best person for the position, he said, marries “presentation, politics and politics together,” Lockhart said.

McCurry also advised the spokesman to stay out of policy discussions and be a “fly in the wall”.

“Taking an active role in decision-making causes a reluctance towards those ‘on the other side’ to share information with you and you always want to take the ‘best step,'” he said.

Feller also warned that one of the first questions a spokesman may face from the press is to determine their purpose.

“Is it their role to promote the government’s agenda and not account for anything else, or is it their goal to do both – promote the agenda and be accountable and accountable to the press?” Tha Feller. “Whoever they hire should be willing to answer that question.”


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