Evening Standard slip risks wider press restrictions

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Friday, 22 March 2013 - Will Edwards

Paper’s embargo-breaking Budget coverage will only boost the cause of the pro-regulation lobby

Friday Fame or Shame

“Things can only get better”, read the headline – but for the sake of a few hours, the story may have cost one person their job, one newspaper a seat at political briefings, and the Tories a few points from Ed Balls’ jeering.

All eyes of the media were trained upon the Budget on Wednesday morning, with Sky News running moment-by-moment coverage of George Osborne’s route from 11 Downing Street to the Commons with his famous red briefcase – hardly a surprising event, but illustrative of just how important the ritual build up to speech time has become. As is common in these situations the government had released some budget details to a number of news organisations in advance – embargoed information that is expected to be treated as highly confidential, but enables journalists to begin the frantic process of juggling their pages once the Chancellor has spoken.

However, a major cock-up by the Evening Standard led to the paper uncomfortably sharing the chancellor’s limelight. Just before Osborne got on his feet, the London newspaper tweeted a photo of that day’s front page – and in the process released a number of crucial details before the government had a chance to reveal them to the Commons and general public.

The error did not go unnoticed, and the chancellor was quick to react, instructing the Treasury to conduct a review of advance briefings – it’s expected that the Evening Standard will have its access restricted in future. The paper’s political editor made an apology on twitter saying: “We are so sorry to the House of Commons, to the Speaker and to the chancellor for what happened.” The journalist who had made the mistake was also suspended.

During the Budget itself shadow chancellor Ed Balls made a great show of waving around a copy of the paper’s front page, attempting to score political points over the Tories. Although it has so far gone no further, some people took to Twitter to call for Osborne’s resignation after such sensitive information was leaked.

The newspapers do get it wrong sometimes – and examples as serious as this will only hand further ammunition to those who have called for press regulation.

Will Edwards is managing director of media training consultancy Bluewood Training

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