Tuesday night saw ITV News’ UK Editor Paul Brand tweeted an Exclusive video showing Allegra Stratton, now former Spokesperson for Boris Johnson, joking about a party held in Downing Street last December. However, it has now been revealed that ITV News had known about the video for weeks, but decided not to publish it as they didn’t believe it met the public interest test.
For the past week, Downing Street have been battling claims that Christmas Parties had taken place last December when London was under Tier 4 restrictions. Initially No. 10 claimed all regulations had been adhered to, before switching to claiming no party even occurred. That all changed on Tuesday night.
On Tuesday evening Paul Brand from ITV News tweeted the above regarding the now infamous video of Allegra Stratton in the No. 9 Downing Street briefing room. It’s contents had been widely reported and has resulted in Ms Stratton resigning from her government role, as well as Prime Minister Boris Johnson promising an independent inquiry into the December 18th 2020 get together. The Metropolitan Police have however stated they will not investigate due to a lack of evidence.
Last night, Paul Brand appeared alongside Daily Mirror Journalist Pippa Crerar on BBC 4’s Media Show to talk about their “scoops” on the Downing Street party(s). Crerar explain that whilst she had heard rumours as far back as January, it was only later this year that she was given a “metaphorical brown paper envelope” with enough information for her to move forward. Asked whether she could have published earlier, Crerar says she supposes she could have, but that she had nothing actually written up until the day before she broke it. She cites the reason she chose to publish being that people were starting to talk about Christmas Parties again.
Paul Brand, ITV News UK Editor then explained how his story had come about. He started by saying:
“We were aware of this video some time ago, but actually sometimes it takes the work of one journalist to help another journalist.”
Brand is saying that whilst ITV News were aware, it was Pippa Crerar’s story that enabled him to break his. Brand then goes on to explain why they held it back.
“We had some really important considerations when we were looking at this video. I mean it was filmed ultimately in a private setting, so there’s a high bar for publishing that video, it needs the public interest. And, erm, at first look at the video, before the context if the past few weeks, that bar we didn’t feel was met.”
Brand is claiming that a multi million pound treasury funded briefing room is a “private setting” and that it wasn’t clear what Stratton was referring to. Rather than investigate this, he says it took Pippa Crerar’s story and Downing Street denials to “transform the public interest”.
The media show host then asks him to clarify that he had the video for week, but had not released it. Brand replied that they had been working on this story for “several weeks” and praised their legal team, before again referring to Crerar’s story helping them.
Shortly after the initial story about the Downing Street party broke, some on Twitter had questioned if journalists had sat on the story. For asking this question, they were mocked as conspiracy theorists.
There have always been questions about the closeness of Lobby journalists to Politicians given the formers need to spark up good relationships with MPs to get the information they need. Indeed, after Stratton gave her tearful apology and resignation outside her home, several prominent journalists came to the former Spokesperson’s defence. ITV Chief Political Editor Robert Peston praised his friend for resigning calling her a “model for modern politics”.
Given Peston is the Chief Political Editor of ITV News, it’s unlikely he didn’t have a say on whether to publish the Stratton video. If he did, it isn’t out of the question to wonder if his personal friendship clouded his judgement. It’s unlikely we’ll ever know the answer though.
Westminster political journalists have long acted as gatekeepers of what the public should know and when. This time they’ve decided to let is know that.
One story I know several are aware of is my exclusive on the UK Government’s Third-Country Asylum Partnership (TCAP) scheme which will see Asylum seekers from the UK flown to a third country for processing. Given Priti Patel’s Borders Bill passed its Third Reading in Parliament yesterday, it’s a wonder why they didn’t report it before the vote….
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