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Media are left high and dry as Cameron nips in for photo-op

By Paul Connolly

Published 17/04/2015

Prime Minister David Cameron
Prime Minister David Cameron

There are growing concerns about the ability of journalists to properly question politicians on matters of public interest in this election campaign.

Many reporters on both local and national papers increasingly believe they are being frozen out in favour of meaningless political photo-ops and 'balanced' broadcasts.

When journalists are present on a UK party leader visit, it is increasingly of the Westminster 'pool' variety who of course know nothing of local politics.

Moreover, being part of the pool they tend, in my opinion, to go a bit native. They certainly aren't going to speak up for the inclusion of pesky local reporters who might ask difficult local questions.Daily election press conferences seem to have become thing of the past. Labour and the Tories both have been accused of excluding the Fleet Street awkward squad in favour of stage-managed events with the main broadcasters (who are legally obliged to be even-handed).

We saw a good example of news management locally during David Cameron's so-called whistle-stop tour of the UK.

NI was second on the list after a haggis breakfast in Edinburgh, but by any standards this was a breakneck visit. His feet hardly touched the floor as he was whisked from airport to Titanic Quarter and back again.

Whew! He must have travelled all of two miles here. The poor man must be knackered. Still, I bet it was better than having to endure those frightful northern Paddies for the best part of a day.

First off was a meeting of Conservative Party members in NI - well, they won't have had to book out the airport lounge for that one - and then a glib photo-op at the Game of Thrones set, accompanied by a 'pool' of national media reporters.

Having pronounced himself suitably impressed, it was back to the airport for a four-and-a-half minute conference with the tiresome local hacks. Sorry, I do apologise for my misrepresentation: it was 4 minutes, 32 seconds.

During which time, he said nothing of any merit. Absolutely nothing. In fact listen to the audio on the Belfast Telegraph website and you'll hear a man who can't wait to get the hell out of Northern Ireland and who is determined to say nothing of any value.

There's more. Those journalists who made it (having originally been given a different time) were banned from video-recording the press conference. They could record audio and snap smartphone photos but strictly no video.

Why? I have no idea. But could it have been because the viewer would rapidly guess the man fielding questions couldn't wait to leave as fast as he could? You can hear it in his voice.

Northern Ireland hacks aren't the only regional journalists to get the cold shoulder, of course. In Huddersfield, for example, Cameron snubbed the local Daily Examiner on a trip to a factory.

Examiner reporter Joanne Douglas wrote: "I wasn't actually allowed to follow him around the factory as he delivered this good news story; the privilege of knowing what he did went to my colleagues in the national media." (Know how you feel there, Joanne.)

"For a while I thought my report would be limited to a list of what biscuits I ate in a side room..."

Eventually she was granted one minute of questions with Cameron.

They have their faults, but local political parties haven't developed this total control-freak mentality. Let's hope it stays that way. For the sake of the electorate.

Belfast Telegraph

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