Broadcasters issue formal complaint to Downing Street over lack of May interviews

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The UK’s major broadcasters have formally complained to Downing Street about Theresa May refusing to grant interviews at the Conservative Party Conference.

In a letter to the Prime Minister’s communications chief Robbie Gibb, senior figures from BBC News, ITV News, Channel 4 News, Channel 5 News, Sky News and ITN said it was “vital” to hold party leaders to account.

In a reference to Donald Trump’s administration in the US, they noted that “we have already seen attempts to exclude some journalistic organisations in America from press conferences, attempts which were resisted by the solidarity of the broadcasters who refused to allow it”.

A Downing Street spokesman said Mrs May carried out 36 interviews during this year’s party conference in Birmingham, mainly with the BBC.

Veteran Channel 4 News anchor Jon Snow was among journalists at the Conservative Party Conference to complain about the lack of access to the Prime Minister.

He said she had “steadfastly refused to speak to Channel 4 News”, something he said was “unprecedented and disappointing”.

Snow later “empty chaired” the Prime Minister on the evening bulletin, saying: “If you’re listening, Prime Minister, we would love to hear from you and there will always be a chair here for you on Channel 4 News.”

Piers Morgan, host of ITV’s Good Morning Britain, suggested the Prime Minister was “scared” of being interviewed by him.

Andy Bell, political editor at Channel 5 News, said he was “very disappointed that for the first time in too many years to count” he had been refused an interview.

In the letter, the broadcasters wrote to formally complain about the “unprecedented circumstances surrounding interviews with the Prime Minister” at the conference in Birmingham.

“The party conferences are the biggest scheduled political events in the calendar year, where members and leaders gather to discuss and debate policies and for which they receive blanket coverage for their speeches.

“For a functioning democracy it is vital that in turn the politicians and in particular the leaders and even prime ministers are also questioned and held to account in one-to-one interviews.”

The letter sent by broadcasters to Number 10 communications chief Robbie Gibb
The letter sent by broadcasters to Number 10 communications chief Robbie Gibb (handout)

The Downing Street spokesman listed the 36 interviews Mrs May had done, which included 16 regional interviews with the BBC as well as BBC Breakfast, Today, the Andrew Marr show and sit downs with Laura Kuenssberg.

Interviews were also held with 12 regional ITV shows and ITV political editor Robert Peston, on Sky news radio and with its political editor Faisal Islam, and with LBC’s Nick Ferrari.

The spokesman said: “It is not possible for the Prime Minister to accept interview bids from every programme.

“The idea that any broadcaster has been excluded is particularly erroneous.”

Gary Gibbon at Channel 4 News interviewed the Prime Minister in New York, he said, and Andy Bell at Channel 5 News interviewed the Prime Minister in Downing Street “at the start of the summer”.

He added: “Could you let me know how many interviews Jeremy Corbyn carried out during the Labour conference last week and whether you have written a similar joint letter?”

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