For the second time in twelve months, Index on Censorship has submitted a Council of Europe alert related to the exclusion of media outlets from official UK Government visits.
On 17 March, the UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman MP is due to travel to Rwanda to reaffirm the UK Government’s commitment to its controversial plan to send refugees, asylum seekers and migrants to the African country as part of the UK Government’s pledge to reduce illegal immigration.
During the trip, the Home Secretary is to meet with representatives of the Rwandan Government and visit facilities set up as part of the Migration and Economic Development Partnership, which forms part of the new Illegal Migration Bill, which is currently making its way through UK Parliament. However, as reported by The Independent, she will only be accompanied by representatives from outlets including GB News, the Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph. The BBC, The Independent, The Guardian, Daily Mirror and i newspaper have not been invited.
Martin Bright, Index on Censorship’s Editor at Large said: “We are concerned to hear that journalists from organisations judged to be critical of the government’s immigration policy have not been invited to accompany the Home Secretary on her trip to Rwanda. Democracy depends on an open and transparent relationship between government and the media, where all journalists are able to scrutinise the government. Index on Censorship believes that access to Government ministers, both domestically and as part of international visits, should not be treated as a reward for favourable coverage.”
In May 2022, Index on Censorship submitted an alert to the Council of Europe Platform to promote the protection of journalism and safety of journalists when Braverman’s predecessor, Priti Patel excluded a number of media outlets from an April 2022 trip where she signed the original deal in Kigali. At the time, the Home Office denied excluding certain journalists in an effort to avoid scrutiny. A Home Office spokesperson told the Press Gazette: “The Home Office fully adheres to the Government Communication Service Propriety Guidance when dealing with members of the media”. A spokesperson for The Guardian said: “We are concerned that Home Office officials are deliberately excluding specific journalists from key briefings and engagements”.
All alerts posted to the platform are submitted to the relevant Council of Europe member state for response. While the original alert was published on 9 May 2022, there has been no state reply as of 17 March 2023. According to the Council of Europe’s own analysis, in 2022, the UK had a reply rate of 18%.
At the time of publication, the Home Office has not commented on the exclusion of media outlets ahead of Suella Braverman’s official visit.