The Conservative MPs who think news coverage of coronavirus is too negative

Matt Hancock and Nadine Dorries have criticised media outlets for its reporting about the government during the coronavirus outbreak.
Matt Hancock and Nadine Dorries, bottom left and right, have criticised media outlets for its reporting about Boris Johnson and the government during the coronavirus outbreak.

With one of the worst coronavirus death tolls in the world, the UK government is facing scrutiny over its response to the outbreak.

The UK press has been at the forefront of this scrutiny – particularly as journalists have played a visible role in the daily government coronavirus press conferences which have been watched by millions.

In recent weeks, however, there has been growing pushback by Number 10 and its supporters against news reporting of COVID-19.

Here is how the government and Conservative MPs have turned their fire towards news outlets.

Government on the attack

Sharp criticism of coverage of Boris Johnson’s coronavirus response has come from the very top of government.

First, there was the government’s 2,000-word response to a Sunday Times article which claimed Johnson’s government “sleepwalked into disaster”, with the PM reportedly skipping five emergency meetings at the beginning of the outbreak.

In its detailed response, Downing Street said the article “contains a series of falsehoods and errors”.

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Then, on Tuesday, health secretary Matt Hancock criticised a BBC Panorama investigation which claimed the government failed to stockpile personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers in the event of a pandemic.

Hancock said it was not a “fair and objective journalistic assessment of the situation”.

Health minister Nadine Dorries, meanwhile, last week said of journalists at the daily press briefings: “The nation tuned into daily press briefings and saw journalists at their very left leaning, gotcha worst. They failed to adapt and behave appropriately in a crisis.”

Other Tory MPs join in

The criticism has not been confined to the top of government.

Delyn MP Rob Roberts told the Commons on Monday: “Sadly, public trust in the media is collapsing, as many elements are seemingly more interested in catching politicians out and creating a story than reporting the news.”

On Wednesday, Redcar MP Jacob Young accused Sky News of “gotcha” reporting after its political editor Beth Rigby questioned whether Hancock will reach 100,000 daily coronavirus tests by the end of Thursday, a target that had been set by the health secretary.

Rigby and BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg were also criticised by Lewes MP Maria Caulfield for not saying “congratulations” when reporting on the birth of Johnson’s and Carrie Symonds’ baby on Wednesday.

This was Rigby’s response:

Not all Tory MPs are on the attack

Earlier this month, culture secretary Oliver Dowden urged people to buy the very newspapers which are criticising his government colleagues.

With newspapers fighting for their existence during the coronavirus crisis, Dowden said in an article for The Times: “Newspapers are at heart of the British media and essential to its vibrant mix. People across the country are rising to the coronavirus challenge and I suggest we all add one small thing to our to-do list: buy a paper.”

But what do the people actually think?

A YouGov poll published this week suggests the public is not buying MPs’ criticism of coronavirus news coverage.

The survey of 1,643 people on Monday and Tuesday shows public trust in TV and newspaper coverage remains largely the same as it was before the outbreak in December – and in some cases has increased. Here are the results:

Meanwhile, an Ipsos MORI poll, also published on Wednesday, found people think journalists are doing a better job than Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer in holding the government to account:

However, another poll from last week, carried out by YouGov and Sky News, showed more people trust Johnson during the coronavirus crisis than they do journalists.

Johnson got a net score of 12, with TV journalists getting -40 and newspaper journalists -55.

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