Senior Minister Accused of Trying to Dictate Which Reporter Is Allowed to Interview Him as Press Freedom Groups Warn of Backsliding
David TC Davies refused to be interviewed by a journalist who’d dug into allegations of climate change denialism and his equal rights stance
Subscribe to our newsletter for exclusive editorial emails from the Byline Times Team.
A senior minister has been accused of attempting to effectively blacklist an award-winning journalist who scrutinised his stance on LGBT+ rights and climate change.
After repeated requests for interviews over several months, WalesOnline’s social affairs editor Will Hayward claims that David TC Davies, Secretary of State for Wales told him he was “willing to be interviewed by anyone else” at the leading national title.
It follows a series of reports from Hayward into the Conservative minister’s alleged history of flirting with climate change denialism.
In October, the WalesOnline reporter published a piece titled: “The strange world of former climate change denier, devolution and same-sex marriage opponent David Davies” as the Wales secretary took his post.
It included concerns about Mr Davies being paid £750 an hour to appear on the television channel RT – formerly known as Russia Today – four times in 2016 and 2017. While legal at the time, RT is now banned in the UK and viewed as a propaganda vehicle for Russian despot Vladimir Putin.
Davies also opposed the introduction of equal marriage, branding them “barking mad”, while he once said: “Most parents would prefer their children not to be gay”. The minister told WalesOnline: “I am a supporter of LGBTQ+ rights and voted in 2019 in favour of same sex marriage in Northern Ireland.”
According to climate outlet DeSmog, in September 2016 the Conservative MP said: “The BBC have accepted hook, line and sinker the so-called scientific consensus on climate change and not allowed anyone onto the airwaves who wants to question it.” Davies has since said he accepts the impact of man-made climate change.
Last year, he got in a spat with Stop Brexit Man Steve Bray, with the MP calling the EU supporter a “disgrace”, a “nutcase” and told him to “get a job”. Bray called him a “wombat” in the exchange which went viral.
Will Hayward told Byline Times: “I spent more than three months requesting interviews with Mr Davies since he took on his role in cabinet and more than once he has said that he would be willing to be interviewed by anyone else at WalesOnline other than me.
“I would not normally ever reveal the contents of private conversations between a politician and myself. However, it is absolutely unacceptable for senior members of the UK Government to attempt to dictate which journalists news organisations put forward to scrutinise them. Wales is facing huge challenges and it is only right that the Secretary of State for Wales fronts up to answer questions.”
A spokesperson for Mr Davies said: “The Welsh Secretary is happy to speak to reporters from WalesOnline and its associated titles and most recently carried out an in-depth interview with Political Editor-at-Large Martin Shipton which was published on 27 December.
“Mr Davies has been in private correspondence with WalesOnline with concerns over some of its recent reporting, but he will continue to carry out interviews with the company’s journalists as usual.”
Don’t miss a story
Mr Davies has been the MP for Monmouthshire since 2005 but only assumed a frontbench role in 2020, before being made Wales secretary by Rishi Sunak in October.
Concerning Trend on Media Freedom
The warning about alleged blacklisting came as a coalition of media freedom groups across the world expressed concern over the UK’s backsliding on journalistic freedom.
Provisions in the UK government’s National Security Bill could have a “chilling effect” on journalism, creating a blueprint for authoritarian governments around the world to threaten journalists, activists and whistleblowers, the groups said on Thursday. .
Clauses intended to target spies acting on behalf of foreign states could also bring individuals working for international media and NGO organisations, many of whom legitimately receive funding from foreign states, within scope of the Bill, they’ve warned.
Groups including PEN International, Reporters Without Borders, the Foreign Press Association; the European Broadcasting Union and the Afghanistan Journalists Center have all said the bill could endanger their freedom to report in the UK.
And it could be used by authoritarian governments around the world as a means to threaten journalists, activists and whistleblowers with lengthy prison sentences on the grounds that the UK has enacted “similar” laws to theirs.
In an open letter, signatories representing journalists across the world called on the UK government to act to protect and prioritise media freedom which is a means to “improve good governance and tackle corruption.”
Coordinated by the News Media Association and signed by more than 40 representatives of media organisations from across the world, the letter came as peers are set to debate the National Security Bill during the third day of Committee Stage in the Lords.
The letter said: “We write as a group of global journalism and media freedom organisations, to express our serious concerns about the National Security Bill currently before the UK Parliament, and the risk it poses to whistleblowing and public interest journalism.
“Whilst we understand the UK government’s aim to update its espionage laws to protect national security, the draft Bill contains broad and vague definitions that we believe will, even if unintentionally, impact on legitimate whistleblowers and public interest journalism..
“It is widely recognised that taking active steps to protect and prioritise media freedom is a means to improve good governance and tackle corruption. As a result, any action on this by the UK government will be a significant marker to the global community, watched and potentially copied by allies and adversaries alike.”
Boris Johnson was rumoured to have urged the sale of Channel 4 because it replaced him with an ice bucket at an election debate he didn’t attend.
And in February 2021, Downing Street defended a government minister who called a journalist “creepy and bizarre” for having the temerity to ask questions about a coronavirus vaccines video.
Kemi Badenoch, then equalities minister, accused HuffPost journalist Nadine White of “making up claims”, publishing screenshots of emails sent to her MP’s office and naming the reporter, who then said she received a deluge of abuse.
If you have a political or social story that needs telling, get in touch with Josiah Mortimer confidentially by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org