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Sunak’s Private Meetings With Murdochs and Right-Wing Editors Were Purely ‘Social’ Says Government

Voters will never know what was discussed between the PM and media bosses

Rishi Sunak attending The Sun Who Cares Wins Awards at The Roundhouse, London, 2023 Photo: PA Images

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The public will never be told what Rishi Sunak discussed in private meetings with members of the Murdoch family and leading right-wing newspaper editors, due to them being held without civil servants present, or minutes being taken, Byline Times can reveal.

The Prime Minister met media representatives more than any other sector of the UK economy between July and September last year, analysis by Byline Times found in December.

Now Freedom of Information requests by this newspaper have revealed that not one of the PM’s meetings with journalists or media barons last summer was minuted, with officials describing them as “social or informal” gatherings.

No independent civil servants were present. Instead, the Cabinet Office pointed to the presence of a special adviser, who is political but paid for by the taxpayer.

Every single one of the PM’s eight media meetings in that time was with right-leaning media outlets. 

An official for the Cabinet Office told Byline Times: “Since 2011 the Government has pro-actively published details of all meetings (including social and political) between Ministers and senior media executives. This includes informal meetings or engagements (with such senior media figures), where there is no requirement to take minutes as they are not structured or formal Government meetings.

“As set out in the relevant transparency release entries, the engagements in which you have
expressed an interest were informal, social or political engagements…Outside the terms of the Act, we would note that the Prime Minister was accompanied to such informal media engagements by a special adviser.”

But Rose Whiffen, Senior Research Officer at the campaign group Transparency International UK said that if any Government business was discussed, the contents need to be made public: “Transparency over who ministers are meeting and why is vital in allowing the public to see who has access and potential sway with those in power.

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“Regardless of who they’re talking to, if official government business is discussed, engagements should always be recorded in an appropriate manner.

“When these interactions talking about government policy occur in social settings, the rules still apply and the content must be made public.”

Lib Dem Chief Whip Wendy Chamberlain MP told this outlet it looked like the Prime Minister was “using a loophole to get out of following the usual transparency requirements for these meetings.”

“Rishi Sunak promised integrity, accountability and professionalism when he came into Number Ten, but all we’ve had since is yet more sleaze and scandal from the Conservative Party,” she added.

The Prime Minister met senior executives from Rupert Murdoch’s media empire alone four times in the space of three months, compared to just once for NHS representatives. 

Sunak met Daily Mail editors twice in that time, while meeting housing sector figures once. Several of the meetings were listed as “social”, meaning they are unlikely to have been minuted. That includes meetings with the departing News Corporation CEO Rupert Murdoch, and separately, his son Lachlan who would shortly take over at the helm. 

Lexie Kirkconnell-Kawana, Chief Executive of independent press watchdog Impress, said: “At a time when journalists across the country are being frustrated by low government compliance with Freedom of Information requests, serious steps should be taken to ensure the public are informed of what is going on in Westminster. 

“The lack of clarity regarding what goes on in key meetings between the Prime Minister and senior members of the media industry certainly does not help. We have an election on the horizon where voters will expect journalists to act independently and hold politicians to account.  

“Poor transparency only opens up the floor to speculation, ultimately damaging the already-fragile trust in both journalists and politicians.” 

Read the full meeting declarations for the three months over the Summer here.

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Sunak’s Media Meetings – July-September 2023

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