‘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.’
– Foreign Press Association
Nearly 300 newsrooms have supported an open letter compiled by the UK Foreign Press Association (FPA), calling upon the conference organisers to “scrap or refund the charges and allow fair and free reporting for all.”
Along with the UK Society of Editors, News Media Association and News Media Coalition, the FPA has been seeking discussions with the Conservative party about alternatives to what the party says is a charge to compensate the conference organisations for their admin costs.
A nominal charge was introduced at the party’s conference last year, ”to discourage over-accreditation by some media outlets,” according to the party.
The fee – £137 for each journalist attending – is set to rise to £880 for applications submitted from 1 August.
Industry representatives say that any fee for media attendance at party conferences – regardless of the political party – sets a deeply concerning precedent in a democratic society.
An FPA statement released alongside the open letter reads: ‘The Foreign Press Association in London, representing international correspondents in print, online, and broadcast media from all over the world, is fiercely opposed to the charging of journalists to attend the Tory Party Conference this Autumn.
“We believe that a fundamental tenet of a free and democratic society is allowing journalists – from all over the world – to freely report on matters of public interest. We have not found any comparable charges in any other country in the world, let alone in any other democracy.”
Andrew Moger, CEO of the News Media Coalition, 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 assertion of government ministers that they fundamentally back a thriving press sector and press freedom.”
The FPA 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.”
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