Protest escalates over ‘tax on political reporting’

Posted on: June 20, 2023 by Claire Meadows

200 newsrooms around the world have today (Tuesday 20 June 2023) added their voice to growing concerns over the decision by the Conservative Party to introduce a charge for journalists to attend its upcoming October party conference.  

In an open letter co-ordinated by the Foreign Press Association, news organisations from Mexico to Vietnam and South Africa to Australia have criticised the introduction of a media accreditation fee which they say goes against the “fundamental tenet” that in a free and democratic society, journalists from “all over the world” should be able “to freely report on matters of public interest”.

The introduction of the fee has attracted widespread criticism with organisations including the Society of Editors, News Media Association, News Media Coalition and the Foreign Press Association in London leading the calls for the party to scrap it. Earlier this month, the coalition described the charge as “draconian” and said that it ran counter to the Conservative party’s claim to be a defender of press freedom. The party has said the charge has been introduced to “discourage over-accreditation” and the administrative cost that accompanies “no-shows”. 

In today’s open letter, the coalition of foreign news outlets said that no comparable charges exist in any other country in the world and that as they felt inclined to speak out.

They added: “It is a shame that the UK, part of the Media Freedom Coalition, co-organiser of the very first Media Freedom Conference in the world, a country with a proud tradition of press independence, should be the first to effectively tax journalists for doing their job. As observers of this country we feel the need to speak out.

“We have been told that the reasons for the charges are administrative, to cover the “thousands” of no-shows: yet there appears to be no proof of these no-shows and there is no other comparable event that requires journalists to pay for coverage. In fact, 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.

“We therefore call upon the Tory party conference organisers to scrap or refund the charges and allow fair and free reporting for all.”

The support from foreign news outlets in opposing the fee has been welcomed by Andrew Moger, Chief Executive of the News Media Coalition.

He said: “Through their independent reporting these newsrooms and foreign journalists contribute to the world view of the conditions of press freedom, democracy and freedom of expression in the UK. The world’s eyes are even more on British politics, matters of governmental transparency and open debate. To ask independent journalists to contribute to the funds of a political party albeit via an administration fee for reporting on a conference staged by the governing party is at odds with the assertation of government ministers that they fundamentally back a thriving press sector and press freedom”.