July 3, 2020 / 2:17 PM / a month ago

British government to hold White House-style televised briefings

LONDON (Reuters) - The British government will begin holding daily televised briefings with journalists later this year, throwing open a decades-old behind-closed-doors relationship between reporters and politicians.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the move was to meet public demand for information direct from ministers, building on the perceived success of the government’s daily news conferences during the coronavirus pandemic.

“People have liked more direct detailed information from the government about what’s going on,” Johnson told LBC radio. “We do think that people want direct engagement and want stuff from us.”

The new format resembles that used by the White House in Washington to televise what have been - particularly during President Donald Trump’s administration - sometimes awkward and hostile tussles between reporters and government officials.

It will begin in October, according to the Times of London and Financial Times newspapers.

Marking a major shift that has been resisted by successive british administrations and some sections of the printed press, it will partially replace a much more closed system of interaction between the government and the reporters.

These so-called “lobby” arrangements have evolved from secret briefings for select journalists in the 1920s to on-the-record, though untelevised, meetings with the prime minister’s spokesman.

Held either in a draughty turret room inside the Palace of Westminster or a former court chamber attached to the prime minister’s residence, the briefings are now open to accredited members of the media working in parliament.

Johnson’s move to televise one of these twice-daily meetings will put on show a relationship between the government and the media that has been long been criticised by some as too comfortable - particularly in recent years as Brexit captured the wider public’s attention and polarised opinions.

From March the government held a daily news conference, allowing reporters to ask ministers and public health officials questions by video link. At times they attracted millions of viewers, but have now been cancelled in favour of briefings only when the government has a significant announcement to make.

Reporting by William James; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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