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Conservative Party Exempts Selected Media Outlets From Paying To Cover its Conference

The decision to charge journalists to cover the event has been condemned as a threat to media freedom

Rishi Sunak. Photo: Alamy

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The Conservative Party has been accused of “discriminatory” practices after confirming to Byline Times that they are exempting selected media outlets from its plans to charge journalists to attend its annual conference.

The party was widely condemned last year after becoming the first British political party to introduce mandatory charges for journalists.

The charges mean that journalists attending this year’s conference will have to pay £137 each in order to gain entry. This comes on top of a further £125 charge for using a dedicated media room within the conference centre.

The party has insisted that the charges are necessary to cover security and other costs.

However, despite initial suggestions that the charges would apply to all, Byline Times understands that the party has given some media outlets a “waiver code” which disapplies the entry charge.

In a statement, a Conservative Party spokesperson confirmed that they had applied a “range of exemptions” for some “local” media outlets, suggesting that this was due to “the challenging financial situation many local outlets face”.

However, a party source told Byline Times that the exemptions had also been extended to some major broadcasters as well. The decision was justified on the basis that the broadcasters had contributed to infrastructure at the conference.

Previous statements by the party did not mention that the waiver had also been applied to some broadcasters.

A party spokesperson did not respond to multiple requests from this paper to confirm on the record whether or not waiver codes had also been given to selected national newspapers and magazines.

However, suggestions that certain outlets have been exempted from the charges, has led to suspicions among some other news organisations that other rival outlets may have negotiated free access from the party.

The Foreign Press Association’s Director Deborah Bonetti, accused the party of “picking and choosing” which outlets were given free access.

“I don’t understand why they are picking and choosing the media that have to pay, unless they actually want to prevent less friendly media from reporting from the conference”, Bonetti told Byline Times.

“I think it’s deeply unfair and actually discriminatory”.

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The development comes after the Government came under fire earlier this year for selecting certain “friendly” media outlets to accompany the Home Secretary on a trip to Rwanda.

The invite, was only extended to a small number of outlets, including GB News, the Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph.

Other outlets, including The BBC, The Independent, The Guardian, Daily Mirror were not invited.

Downing Street was also criticised earlier this year after an attempt to exclude all but a hand-picked selection of media outlets from a Q+A with the Prime Minister during a visit to Scotland.

The Foreign Press Association, representing hundreds of international media outlets, wrote an open letter to the the party this week, condemning the decision to charge journalists for access, as a threat to media freedom.

“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,” the letter stated.

“This 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.”

Other groups, including Reporters Without Borders, and the Society of Editors, have also condemned the decision.

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A Conservative Party spokesperson said in a statement: “A modest charge was introduced last year to discourage over-accreditation by some media outlets.

“At one recent conference several thousand people who applied for free media accreditation failed to collect their passes, generating large amounts of paper and plastic waste.

“In previous years, police security checks for non-attendees have cost the Party tens of thousands of pounds. We do not believe members and other attendees should effectively subsidise this.

“There are a range of exemptions on offer owing to the challenging financial situation many local outlets face”.

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