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Government invites public questions for daily briefings

Posted on: April 27, 2020 by Mariella Brown

There has been a mixed reaction to news that the government is to allow the public to ask questions at the daily coronavirus press conference.

The new scheme will allow anyone over the age of 18 to submit a question and one each day will be put to a minister for a live answer. The government says the minister concerned will not know the question in advance.

But the initiative received a mixed response from some political journalists tasked with covering the government’s response to the Covid-19 crisis.

Tom Newton Dunn, political editor at The Sun commented on Twitter:  ‘Difficult to see how this fuels the new wave of transparency that Boris Johnson just promised.’

Jonathan Haynes, digital editor at the Guardian said:  ‘On the surface, wonderfully grassroots democratic. Dig just a millimetre down and a way for government to reduce scrutiny even further.’

But Stephen Bush, political editor at The New Statesman tweeted:  ‘This is a good idea: members of the public will be able to submit their questions for the daily press conference. I wrote about the possible benefits of a scheme like that.”

The government said that the questions will be chosen by an independent polling organisation and it would not be involved in choosing questions.

The questions will be reviewed at midday and the sender of the chosen question will be contacted by 3pm on the day of the press conference to be asked if they wish to record a short video. The video will then be shown during the live broadcast or the question will be read out at the press conference.

Ian Murray, executive director at the Society of Editors said it was important the media did not give the impression they were against the public’s right to directly ask questions of ministers during the crisis.

“There is nothing for the media to be afraid of here provided the government is true to its word in not playing a role in choosing questions to be asked. But the government in turn should not expand the initiative to drown out the media who will have researched their line of questioning to seek answers often to issues and topics the public will not have considered.”