Coronavirus: News coverage 'has improved Boris Johnson's response to pandemic'

James Morris
·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·3-min read
Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Whitty (left) and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance stand with Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on Coronavirus (COVID-19) after the government�s COBRA meeting. Picture date: Monday March 16, 2020. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus. Photo credit should read: Richard Pohle/The Times /PA Wire
Boris Johnson takes questions at one of the government's earlier coronavirus press conferences. (Richard Pohle/The Times/PA Wire)

Robust news coverage of the coronavirus crisis has improved the government’s response to the outbreak.

That’s the view of leading news industry expert Dominic Ponsford, who said Boris Johnson’s administration would be “a lot further behind” if it wasn’t for journalists’ probing on matters such as the lockdown and personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages.

It comes amid a growing level of government and Conservative pushback against media reporting of its COVID-19 response.

This has ranged from health secretary Matt Hancock using the daily coronavirus press briefing to call out a BBC investigation into PPE as “unfair”, to backbench Tory MP Rob Roberts using a Commons speech to urge culture secretary Oliver Dowden to take action against media outlets.

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Ponsford, who is editor-in-chief of news industry website Press Gazette, told Yahoo News UK: “The government is never going to like it when journalists focus on uncomfortable truths.

“But you can’t deny the fact that if it wasn’t for the work journalists are doing, we’d be a lot further behind in terms of things like PPE shortages, critical care shortages and the way the government dragged its feet in bringing the country into lockdown.

“There are lots of areas where you can see having a robust, probing media has helped the country manage this crisis better than it otherwise would have.”

Speaking in the Commons on Monday, Delyn MP Roberts claimed “public trust in the media is collapsing” and asked what Dowden can “do with the media to provide useful and accurate information”.

Read more: The Conservative MPs who think news coverage of coronavirus is too negative

Dowden, for his part, paid “tribute to the work of the news industry in providing much-needed information. We see that work in our national and local newspapers and in our local commercial and BBC radio stations, which bring together communities and provide reliable news.”

However, with attacks on the media coming from the top of government – such as its angry 2,000 word response to a critical Sunday Times investigation – Ponsford warned there is a danger of Number 10 heading into Donald Trump’s “territory” of aggressive behaviour towards media outlets.

“There have been a few surveys showing trust in journalists is not great at the moment,” he said.

“When the government attacks the media, that doesn’t help because there’s a danger you can end up in Trumpian territory with the government openly fostering distrust in the media.

“I don’t think we’re there in the UK by any measure, but there is certainly a danger of us heading in that territory with some of things that MPs and the government have come out with.”

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