Equalities Minister accused of ‘extraordinary’ behaviour over comment request

An Equalities Minister has been accused of “absolutely extraordinary” behaviour after she criticised a journalist for asking why she did not appear in a video promoting the coronavirus vaccine.

Kemi Badenoch, who also serves as Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, went on Twitter to complain that the HuffPost news website had sought to “sow distrust by making up claims I refused to take part in a video campaign”.

The minister suggested journalist Nadine White’s actions undermined efforts to build trust in the vaccine programme, and said: “Chasing clicks like this is irresponsible.”

She shared screenshots of two emails sent by Ms White to a Government press office asking why she did not participate in the cross-party video.

Mrs Badenoch wrote: “Today, an unfortunate reminder of why there is so much confusion and mistrust. Was in meetings all day yesterday and been made aware of 2 emails received from @HuffPost journalist, Nadine White…

“Disinformation is on the rise, yet @HuffPost are looking to sow distrust by making up claims I refused to take part in a video campaign…(which I suggested and promoted!) Even when Labour and Tory MPs work together, some in the media will still look for conflict.

“And the main reason I didn’t appear in the video? Because I’m taking part in and promoting vaccine trials.

“Given the worst disinformation is that the virus is being ‘tested first’ on black people, I thought it better to avoid mixed messages about volunteering to be tested.

“I’ve been working with @GEOgovuk on improving govt communications across all communities especially those disproportionately impacted by Covid-19. The ‘important matter’ isn’t who is or is not in a video.

“It’s that @Huffpost publish numerous articles about how Covid impacts black people, yet are quite happy to undermine our efforts to build trust in the vaccine by making absurd claims. Chasing clicks like this is irresponsible.

“It’s also creepy and bizarre to fixate on who didn’t participate in a video and demand they explain themselves. As a govt minister I have a platform, but it worries me that other people with less of a voice can be smeared in this way.

“I hope more people will share our cross-party video and help improve vaccine confidence. It’s about protecting and saving lives not petty politics.”

HuffPost editor-in-chief Jess Brammar said Ms White had to make her Twitter profile private following Mrs Badenoch’s tweets.

She wrote on Twitter: “Hi Kemi, I am Nadine’s editor.

“The correspondence you have published here shows the opposite of spreading disinformation – as you know, it is correct and standard practice for journalists to check facts and approach people in public office for comment

“I’m glad you highlighted our work on how Covid has hit black people in the UK, much of which has been done by @Nadine_Writes.

“You will note that, contrary to your claim we were spreading disinformation, we have not published this story without your response.

“I totally refute the claim it is ‘creepy and bizarre’ to ask questions of a government minister, and Nadine was doing her job in asking them.”

She later added: “One of my reporters has had to make her Twitter profile private today because a *government minister* tweeted out screenshots of a completely standard request for comment on a story, and accused her of spreading disinformation. Absolutely extraordinary.

“Young, female, black journalists receive some of the worst abuse on Twitter, and to behave in this way is extremely disappointing – even before you consider that the person involved is the minister for equalities.

“We stand by Nadine for doing her job correctly, as she always does.”

The Government Equalities Office has been approached for comment.