Do these press briefings serve any purpose?

matt hancock press briefing
Health secretary Matt Hancock at the daily press briefing

Philip Evans: My Isolation Diary – Day 30 (Thursday, April 16 2020)

AN interesting exchange of posts on Facebook last evening by two of Lyme’s more astute observers – Matt Puddy and David Manners – who both admitted they had stopped watching the government’s Downing Street press briefing every afternoon.

I know how they feel.

This is my 30th day of self-isolation and I have been writing this daily blog since day six. I did it to add a little bit of levity to these lockdown days and to provide me with a focus to keep abreast of the fight against the coronavirus contagion.

On at least three occasions I have written about the dilemma I face as a journalist of 55 years experience, having worked at all levels of the newspaper industry, with a long-held suspicion of all politicians, who is struggling to support my fellow scribes in the manner in which they question the government spokespersons at these briefings.

I am left wondering whether they are serving any purpose at all, other than giving the government the chance to reiterate their overriding message urging the populace to “stay at home” and boost the egos of those we see daily on the TV news.

I have not been able to establish how many people tune into the BBC at about 5pm every day to listen to what is becoming a bit of a farce as the journalists, especially the TV big beasts, get more frustrated as the ministers do their best to avoid answering their questions with any clarity.

But, like Matt and David, I’m pretty sure that thousands have already abandoned their daily dose of what many are considering to be no more than propaganda.

In his Facebook post last evening David railed against the aggressive manner in which some journalists asked their questions, which had persuaded him to no longer watch the briefings. Matt advised his many followers on social media to do likewise and just adhere to the government’s mantra of staying home. To do so, an end will be in sight.

I watch every briefing – “for professional reasons” – and like many others I get really annoyed when the BBC now cut the proceedings short, sometimes half-way through an important answer. I am a firm believer that those who make decisions which can lead to the loss of life need to be accountable.

My wife tries to curtail the amount of news coverage I absorb every day, for the sake of my sanity I suspect, and I have every sympathy for those who are finding the continuing distressing news hard to compute.

I actually thought yesterday’s press conference was one of the better ones with questions from the lower-profile journalists being far more incisive, and which received better responses from Health Minister Matt Hancock and the experts.

He made a major error, however, when he said that the political correspondent of The Financial Times, Laura Hughes, had got it wrong when she referred to the government’s target of 25,000 coronavirus tests by mid-April.

She went on Twitter to point out that had she been given the chance to ask a follow-up question, she would have pointed to his press release of March 18 which said: “Officials are working to increase the number of tests that can by conducted by Public Health England and the NHS to 25,000 a day.”

But we have to accept that mistakes are going to be made as the government struggles to handle such challenging circumstances in these unprecedented days. Clearly the Cabinet members are working flat out, probably 14 to 18 hours a day, so a little more understanding wouldn’t go amiss.

Yesterday the government reacted to the care home crisis with a package of measures which hopefully will lead to a greater recognition and understanding of the pressure care workers are under.

Today, we will hear that lockdown will stay in place for at least another three weeks as, we are told, the government restrictions seem to be working as the number of new cases are levelling out.

So tonight, when we step outside our doors in streets and avenues throughout the land, let’s clap for all carers – those in hospitals, care homes, hospices, surgeries and anywhere where the victims of this most frightening disease are suffering.

And let’s give an extra big cheer for old soldier Captain Tom Moore who completed his 100th lap of his garden this morning, to celebrate his forthcoming 100th birthday, and in the process has raised the mind-boggling amount of £12million for the NHS.

The generosity of mankind should never be questioned, or as Winston Churchill once said:

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

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