Public to get question at daily UK coronavirus press conference
No 10 says move not attempt to replace journalists despite worsening relationship
NHS England medical director, Prof Stephen Powis, left, and the environment secretary, George Eustice, right at a Covid-19 press conference. Photograph: Andrew Parsons/10 Downing Street/AFP via Getty Images
Members of the public are being invited to take part in the daily Downing Street press conference, although No 10 insists this is not an attempt to replace journalists despite the government’s increasingly fractious relationship with the media.
The decision comes amid speculation that the government is preparing to drop its “Stay at home, save lives, protect the NHS” slogan with analysis suggesting it is being used less in the daily press conferences.
Members of the public are now being invited to submit their question on the government’s website, with the polling company YouGov employed to select one issue to be put to ministers every day.
The health secretary, Matt Hancock, said on Monday the government had received 15,000 questions from the public in the first seven hours.
Downing Street says the politicians and experts at the press conference will not have advance sight of the daily question from a member of the public, in line with the practice for journalists from mainstream news outlets.
If an individual has their question chosen, they will be asked if they want to record a short video of themselves asking the question. If they do not, it will be read out on their behalf at the press conference. The exact details of how YouGov will select a single question remains unclear, although there are no qualifications required beyond being over-18 and stating where in the country you live.
The enormous audiences for the daily press conferences, for which more than 8 million people tune in on television alone, have also focused attention on the journalists asking the questions, with government supporters using recent polling to claim their inquiring tone is alienating audiences.
A No 10 spokesperson explained the decision to give a question to a member of the public: “We know people across the UK are making significant sacrifices everyday in order to stay at home, protect the NHS, we recognise the huge disruption this is having on their lives, jobs and businesses so it’s absolutely right the public get a chance to put their questions on the virus, and the measures we put in place, directly to the government and its experts.
“The government is not involved in choosing the questions. That is done by an independent polling firm.”
In recent weeks, Downing Street’s relationship with the media, which had improved enormously during the early part of the crisis as No 10 realised the importance of getting a clear message out to the public, has worsened following a series of critical reports.
Ministers issued lengthy rebuttals to articles in the Sunday Times and Financial Times, while also attacking the Guardian’s recent reporting on the presence of Dominic Cummings at a key scientific advisory meeting.
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