The Conservative Party in the UK has today agreed to drop a media charge for journalists covering its upcoming October party conference.
The decision, which will see the widely opposed “accreditation fee” for media attendance scrapped and a refund given to those who have already paid, comes after discussions between the party and industry bodies including the Society of Editors, the Foreign Press Association, the News Media Association and the News Media Coalition.
Numerous news industry organisations and news businesses around the world had previously complained that having to pay for media accreditation at the conference was against the interests of press freedom, a barrier to reporting and would hamper open democracy. The party had said that the introduction of the fee was to discourage “over-accreditation” and the administrative burden of journalists applying but failing to turn up to the event.
The reversal will now see no charge for media attendance with those that have already applied and paid for accreditation being offered a refund. Payment for access to the media centre will continue in accordance with previous years.
The party has also extended the deadline for applying for free press passes until 31st August 2023.
In agreeing to scrap the fee, the party has asked that journalists and media organisations are mindful of the administrative burden of applying for places that are unlikely to be used.
The party also warned that “no shows” – without good reason – may be charged a levy when applying for future conferences.
Welcoming the change, the coalition of news representatives said: “Following dialogue between the Conservative Party and industry bodies, we welcome the decision to withdraw the media accreditation fee and refund those that have already paid.
“As recognised by the party, all party conferences provide a valuable opportunity for political parties to communicate their policies to the public and ahead of an anticipated general election year, the ability of the media to scrutinise and report freely from such events remains especially important and vital for democracy.
“In agreeing to scrap the fee, the party has asked that journalists and news organisations are mindful of the number of applications they submit to attend the conference. While it is understood that the news agenda often dictates last minute changes, there remains a significant cost and time resource associated with accrediting applications – not least for the police. We are grateful to the party for listening to our concerns and acting accordingly.”
Dawn Alford, Executive Director of the Society of Editors said: “For more than a year, the Society has called on the Conservative Party to re-think plans to charge the media for attending its party conferences. In a democratic society, it is essential that no charging barrier is put in place of the media’s ability to report on behalf of the public. Our concern throughout has been the dangerous precedent that any fee could set and its impact on press freedom more widely.
“We are grateful that, after further dialogue, the party has agreed to drop the charges and we encourage journalists to only apply for places that they intend to use.”
Full details of how to apply and the revised deadlines for application will be added to the Conservative Conference website in the coming days.