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Covid-19: Public Interest Reporting

Volume 802: debated on Tuesday 24 March 2020


Tabled by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that, in the event of any further restrictions on movement to limit the transmission of COVID-19, journalists and photographers carrying press cards will continue to have the freedom to travel for the purposes of public interest reporting.

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, and with his permission, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, the Government are clear that journalists are critical to providing essential information about coronavirus to the public and that it is imperative that they are able to continue doing so. We are working with the industry and others to ensure that journalists are able to continue performing their vital function at this time. Relevant journalists, broadcasters and ancillary staff have been included on the list of key workers whose children will be prioritised for school or other educational or childcare places. We are also clear that employers need to be responsible about who needs to be in the office, and we encourage them to help their staff find alternative arrangements and to support them in working from home.

I thank the Minister for that response and welcome the Government’s response on designation, but it is not the only issue. The Minister mentioned others; I hope they include the National Union of Journalists, which across the sector represents not only employees but the self-employed. When it comes to the means for journalists to do their job, it is the self-employed—the freelancers—we must be concerned about. In the debate on the Bill, we have talked about support for the self-employed; I hope that the Government will be able to respond positively to that. I also hope that the Minister will reassure us that, if she does not have the general-secretary of the NUJ on speed dial, she will be speaking to him soon.

I hope my honourable friend the Minister for Media and Data has the NUJ on speed dial, but I will check; he is certainly actively talking to broadcasters, the Society of Editors and others regularly. As the noble Lord rightly raised, work is going on in relation to the position of the self-employed.

My Lords, I pay tribute to all the journalists, photographers and, in particular, camera staff in our 24-hour news service, who are providing a vital, trusted news source in an incredibly fast-moving situation. As the noble Lord said, many of them are freelancers. Does the Minister agree that it would be quite wrong for those freelancers to feel under pressure to work because they do not have the underpinning support enjoyed by those employees rightly identified by the Chancellor in the very supportive settlement that he arranged? There is no equivalent for those freelancers. We have the UQ coming in a minute, but I see that the Statement says that further help is coming. I hope that further help is coming very fast indeed; otherwise, we will see freelancers who feel obliged to carry on working when they are creating a danger to themselves and others.

The noble Lord has covered a number of points. I absolutely echo his sentiment about the importance of journalists and those involved in public service broadcasting at the moment; not only are they a trusted source of facts, but they will have a role to play in rallying communities and getting the message across about how we can keep ourselves and our families safe, and protect our NHS. Undoubtedly, they have a critical role. I know the noble Lord understands the pace at which government has had to work over the past couple of weeks. In a number of these areas, it may be worth waiting a couple more days and getting the solution right, rather than being too hasty.

My Lords, might this be an appropriate moment for the over-75s to be given back their free licences?

The noble Lord might not be aware that an announcement was made about the changes to licences for the over-75s due to be effective from 1 August.