Journalists Must Press Government Harder In COVID-19 Briefings

Wow -- "Mediatel" columnist Raymond Snoddy doesn't pull any punches in his column this week about the daily COVID-19 press briefings being given by the Government. The announcements, delivered around 5pm or so each day, have seen a variety of ministers take to the central podium, flanked by medical experts.

The main thing most journalists have all probably been wondering about is why is the questioning has not been more vigorous. Regular readers will remember from past columns that MAD London has raised concerns that Boris' Government stands accused of briefing favoured journalists.

The suspicion is that there is a kind of friends list being drawn up on that gets information first.

You may say this is likely to have happened for many years and that journalists with the best contacts and working relationships with ministers are the best briefed. The trouble is, there is a suspicion this could be used as a means of keeping those on the friends lists less vigorous with their questioning. 

I have to be honest, when I have heard the same three or four journalists from the big news outlets being asked to chip in to the video conference with a question, I'm surprised how chatty the whole thing sounds. I think most of us are wondering whether this is linked to questioning that is often tame.

Many of the questions have been seeking clarification on what has just been announced or whether one particular activity or another falls foul of rules on social distancing and staying at home.

The focus seems to be on what we the public can do and where we may be going wrong.

I know some of the big questions have been asked, but are they being asked enough? Where is the promised protective equipment? Has it all arrived? Are you expecting medical staff without the correct kit to still work? What about care workers? Should they not have access to better protective equipment?

Speaking of care homes, where are the figures for deaths excluding those that occurred in hospital? Why did it take another Government agency to point out deaths at home and in care homes were not being given in each day's total which the public assumed was an accurate up-to-date figure for all deaths?

Again, on care homes, Snoddy suggests a corker. Have all patients treated in hospital been tested for COVID-19 before being discharged back into social care? If not, isn't that putting their carers at risk?

Other options could look at why the UK has been slower than other countries to roll out tests, and whether we are really on course to deliver 100,000 tests per day by the end of the month. Can people who have had COVID-19 have something to show for it -- a certificate or doctor's note perhaps -- to allow them to go back to work?

I think the majority of the population have now given up on tuning in live to the daily briefings because, particularly while Boris is recovering, they have been delivered with little panache and you only need to listen to the news headlines shortly afterwards to find out whether there was a major announcement.

I also think the public are showing less interest, though, because ministers are not being repeatedly pressed firmly enough on some major questions the public would want answered. 

I'm not sure I would go the full hog and say he is right to call the briefings a "pantomime" and that we do need to observe some probing questions have been asked. However, overall I would say ministers have been given a pretty easy time of it, considering the scale of the problems facing lockdown Britain. 

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