When is a journalist a “commercial observer”?

The Conservatives are in town – that’s if your town is Birmingham.

They are relatively frequent visitors to the Midlands and a few years ago, with a confirmed commission, I applied for media accreditation to cover the conference. My application was denied. The reason that was given was that I was not representing a national publication (even though I was).

But that wasn’t the end of it – they would be more than delighted to have me at the conference and provide me with the necessary security pass; but only if I registered as a “commercial observer” and paid them a fee of £500.

I told them where to go. Fortunately, the editor who had commissioned me agreed that this was outrageous behaviour by the Conservative Party (although how much of this was down to the Conservative Party and how much it was down to their external conference organising consultants is unknown).

When I go to events as a journalist, I’m there to report on it; not to fund it. Don’t get me wrong, if it comes to paying for internet access, ISDN lines, phone lines, accommodation, meals, and other facilities; then yes, I would expect to pay reasonable fees. But I do not expect to be charged a fee merely for the right to report on a conference.

Political reporting in the UK is too cosy. I’m not casting any aspersions on the quality or independence of our political hacks; but the lobby-system and the use of faux-press conferences where the only people called to ask questions are the national tv networks’ on-screen correspondents are two means by which political parties seek to control – to an extent – how they are reported.

Refusing media accreditation and requiring journalists outside “the club” to pay £500 as a “commercial observer” is another way.

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