The Conservative Party has agreed to drop a “media charge” so that journalists can cover its October party conference in Manchester.
The accreditation fee for journalists wanting to attend the conference was widely criticised and led to industry bodies coming together to lobby the party.
They said that it was against the interests of press freedom and a barrier to open democracy.
However, the Conservatives argued that the cost was to discourage “over-accreditation” and the “administrative burden” of journalists applying but failing to turn up to the event.
“Following dialogue between the Conservative Party and industry bodies, we welcome the decision to withdraw the media accreditation fee and refund those that have already paid,” read a joint statement from the coalition of news representatives including the Foreign Press Association, the News Media Association, the News Media Coalition, and the Society of Editors.
“As recognised by the party, all party conferences provide a valuable opportunity for political parties to communicate their policies to the public and ahead of an anticipated general election year, the ability of the media to scrutinise and report freely from such events remains especially important and vital for democracy.
“In agreeing to scrap the fee, the party has asked that journalists and news organisations are mindful of the number of applications they submit to attend the conference. While it is understood that the news agenda often dictates last minute changes, there remains a significant cost and time resource associated with accrediting applications – not least for the police. We are grateful to the party for listening to our concerns and acting accordingly.”
There will still be a fee to access the media centre, which has been the case in previous years. Those who’ve already paid for accreditation will be offered a refund.
The party did say that journalist “no shows” without a good reason may be charged a levy when applying for future conferences.
“For more than a year, the Society has called on the Conservative Party to re-think plans to charge the media for attending its party conferences. In a democratic society, it is essential that no charging barrier is put in place of the media’s ability to report on behalf of the public. Our concern throughout has been the dangerous precedent that any fee could set and its impact on press freedom more widely,” said Dawn Alford, Executive Director of the Society of Editors.
“We are grateful that, after further dialogue, the party has agreed to drop the charges and we encourage journalists to only apply for places that they intend to use.”