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UK minister criticised for telling media to be patriotic

Responding to tough questions from a BBC reporter, Conservative Party leader Andrea Leadsom said: “It would be helpful if broadcasters were willing to be a bit patriotic.”

world Updated: Jun 24, 2017 21:26 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
Andrea Leadsom,Brexit talks in Brussels,Prime Minister Theresa May
File photo of Conservative Party’s Andrea Leadsom.(Reuters)

The British news media’s long history of holding power to account has faced some challenge in recent years, but a top cabinet minister’s advice to the media to be “patriotic” has sparked a backlash.

Andrea Leadsom, leader of the House of Commons and one of Prime Minister Theresa May’s challengers in last year’s Conservative leadership election, was questioned on BBC’s Newsnight on the Brexit talks in Brussels and the less-than-enthusiastic response to May’s plans for the future of EU citizens in the UK.

responding to the tough questions from presenter Emily Maitlis, Leadsom said: “It would be helpful if broadcasters were willing to be a bit patriotic. The country took a decision, this government is determined to deliver on that decision.”

Maitlis asked: “Are you accusing me of being unpatriotic for questioning how negotiations are going, questioning whether you have the position of strength that she (May) said she wanted?”

Leadsom replied: “I’m not accusing you of anything, Emily. I’m simply saying we all need to pull together as a country. We took a decision a year ago today to leave the European Union, we have a very strong hand and we are very well prepared for the negotiations.”

Media academics criticised Leadsom’s comments, saying it would have resonance in India and elsewhere, while Liberal Democrats leader Tim Farron described the remarks as “sinister” and “stupid” and asked her to apologise.

Stuart Allan, professor and head of journalism at Cardiff University, told Hindustan Times: “Emily Maitlis was quick to challenge this nonsense, and rightly so. Good journalism is about holding power to account, not least when politicians claim their party’s interests are one and the same as the national interest.”

Savyasaachi Jain, senior lecturer in media at Swansea University, said: “Asking media to be ‘patriotic’ is often no more than a thinly disguised effort by politicians to get the media to fall in line and abandon its role of holding those in power to account.

“Unfortunately, this phenomenon seems to have gathered pace in recent years, taking the form of labelling the media as ‘fake news’ in the US or ‘’lugenpresse’ (lying press) in Germany, or ‘presstitutes’ in India.”

Farron added: “This is a sinister threat to the free media…How dare Andrea Leadsom tell the press what they should think, this isn’t a George Orwell book. She needs to apologise for these comments and realise what she said was frankly stupid.”

First Published: Jun 24, 2017 17:29 IST