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Sun 17 January 2021

The Government portal suggested an independent polling company will no longer select the public questions asked at the controversial Downing Street briefings, Sam Bright reveals

The Government seemingly changed the rules, allowing it to now hand-pick questions from members of the public to be asked at Downing Street COVID-19 briefings, Byline Times can reveal.

In April, amid the first wave of the Coronavirus pandemic and with daily press conferences held in 10 Downing Street, the Government announced that members of the public would be given the opportunity to ask questions of the various ministers and officials who took to the podiums.

Ever since, people have been able to submit their questions via a Government website. The online portal said that the questions would be selected by an “independent polling company” and that ministers would not have advance sight of the issues raised.

However, the Government today quietly released new rules, stating that an independent polling company will compile a shortlist of questions – and that the Government will decide “which ones are asked at each event”.

Unlike previously, the new Government portal did not refer to the Downing Street briefings explicitly. Instead, members of the public were merely asked to submit questions that may be posed to ministers at a “public event”.

The original web page used by the Government to harvest questions for the Downing Street Coronavirus briefings, however, redirects to this new portal.

Boris Johnson’s administration has promised regular briefings during this new lockdown, as vaccines for COVID-19 are rolled-out, with Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock set to deliver one at 5pm today.

The Government’s daily briefings have been the subject of controversy since they were introduced early on in the pandemic. Ministers have been accused of using the forum to spew propaganda, while failing to give journalists enough time to scrutinise their policies.

The introduction of questions from the public was generally seen as a snub to journalists, who are forced to ask their questions after ordinary punters.

We don’t imagine the queuing journalists will be best pleased to learn that the public’s questions may now be cherry-picked by officials.

Downing Street has so far refused to comment on the record.


UPDATE: 5:41pm, 11 January 2020

Since Byline Times went to press at 4:46pm, the Government has changed the portal.

Whereas it said this, prior to the publication of this article:

It now says this:

It remains unclear why the information on the portal was changed. Has the Government U-turned or did it merely make a misleading statement without realising? Byline Times will leave it up to our readers to decide.


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